The Los Angeles Unified School District has suspended its deal with Apple that provides each student with an iPad after allegations that top school officials had improperly close ties with the technology company.
The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the $30 million deal, which was the focus of fanfare last year, has been placed in limbo because district Superintendent John Deasy and Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino had regular contact with Apple and its partner Pearson that gave the appearance of a conflict of interest.
That $30 million was also expected to be just a starting point as the school district planned to purchase Apple products in excess of $500 million going forward.
“Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc.,” Deasy wrote in a memo sent to the Board of Education Monday. “Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the [project].”
The Times obtained a draft of a district technology community report that was critical of the bidding process that appeared “to be tailored to the products of the event winners,” the publication reported, instead of the district’s specific needs. The report found that changes were made the bidding rules after a number of technology providers had been eliminated under an original list of specifications.
Through a public record information request, the Times also found emails between Deasy, Aquino, a former Pearson executive and Apple executives discussing the contract.
“I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one,” Aquino wrote in May 2012, according to the Times.
In an interview with the paper, Deasy defended his actions and those of his staff, saying it is common for him to be involved and that the discussions the Times mentioned were regarding a pilot program and not the larger Apple computing buy.
“Nothing was done in any inappropriate way whatsoever,” the superintendent said. “Of course I talk to people. I would be expected to.”
The deal with Apple was immediately criticized within the Los Angeles school system for a variety of reasons. At the top was that the devices provided were quickly seen as obsolete, as Apple released a new consumer version shortly after the deal was struck.
Los Angeles got the company to provide the new version at the same cost, but the education software installed on the devices was still under development during the first year of a three-year license. There were also complaints from students who said they struggled to take tests on the device because of its smaller screen and an attachable keyboard that was not well integrated into the device.
There was also an issue with students hacking the devices and accessing applications, such as Facebook, which were supposed to be blocked on the school-distributed devices.
The district is still distributing some laptops under the old contract and has a plan to purchase 18,000 more under a recently expanded approach.
“We will incorporate the lessons learned from the original procurement process,” Deasy said. “We look forward to refining our processes and ultimately achieve our vision to equip every one of our students with a personal computing device to help them succeed in the 21st century.”