by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/1pjc8aO
School board member Tamar Galatzan, shown here with Supt. John Deasy last year, was one of the staunchest supporters of the original iPad plan. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
May 22, 2014, 901 PM :: The Los Angeles Board of Education this week acted against a critic of its controversial iPad program by refusing to reappoint him to a key review panel, the latest of several actions that could limit scrutiny of the project.
On Tuesday, a board majority removed Stuart Magruder as a nominee for a second, two-year term on the Bond Oversight Committee, which analyzes and votes on spending from school-construction bonds. The L.A. Unified School District is using more than $1 billion from these bonds to pay for providing a computer to every student, teacher and school administrator.
Board member Tamar Galatzan said she opposed Magruder because he overstepped his role.
He's an architect and . . . has made many forays into telling the instructional people how to do instruction. I think it's inappropriate. - Tamar Galatzan, LAUSD board member
Galatzan confirmed later that she was referring to some of Magruder's challenges of the iPad project.
lNearly a year go, the board approved an iPad contract that was expected to expand districtwide. But the fall rollout at 47 schools was plagued by difficulties, such as inadequate wireless Internet and inconsistent policies on who was responsible for the costly devices. Early on, students at three high schools deleted security filters so they could browse the Web freely. Officials also have come under fire for misstating costs and terms of the contract with Apple, which makes the iPad.
In an interview, Magruder, 47, defended his inquiries, saying officials needed to justify the huge expenditure.
"They claim there's good pedagogical support for having iPads everywhere for all grades but they haven't been able to provide any support for that," he said.
"It is also clear to me that the district was not really prepared to launch this initiative and have it add value to the classroom," said Magruder, who has two children attending district schools.
Eventually, the district responded to critics by slowing down the districtwide expansion and by trying out laptops as an alternative to iPads in high school.
Galatzan also accused Magruder of voting against any project that did not use architects. Magruder denied that.
The oversight committee grew out of attempts, in the 1990s, to pass school-construction bonds for relieving overcrowding and repairing dilapidated campuses. They also can be used for technology.
The first bond election failed. On the next try, officials added the oversight committee to enhance voter confidence. That bond passed, as have several since. The 15 committee members are unpaid, and their votes are not binding on the district.
Certain groups have had the right to name a member to the panel, including the county Federation of Labor. Another organization with a seat is the local branch of the American Institute of Architects, which chose Magruder two years ago.
Until this week, the school board has never rejected a nominee from a designated outside group, said Tom A. Rubin, the consultant for the bond panel.
During the meeting, Galatzan proposed approving only a second nominee, Barry Waite, whose nomination by a taxpayer-rights group also was before the board. Monica Garcia voted with Galatzan without comment. Galatzan and Garcia were the staunchest backers of the original iPad plan.
Joining them was board President Richard Vladovic.
"I'm going to go with my colleague, who seems to be very knowledgeable," Vladovic said of Galatzan.
Bennett Kayser also voted with them, but only to support Waite. He said later that he also would back Magruder. Steve Zimmer voted no, objecting to the exclusion of Magruder, and Monica Ratliff abstained. The seventh board seat is temporarily vacant.
In denying Magruder, the board acted improperly, said civil rights attorney Robert Garcia, who chaired the oversight body from 2000 to 2005. He said district officials had signed a legally binding agreement to ratify the selections of the outside groups.
Galatzan said she was not aware of the earlier agreement.
"If we couldn't vote no, why else would it be brought to us?" she said.
L.A. Unified general counsel David Holmquist insisted that the board retains the right to reject nominees.
Current oversight chairman Stephen English is out of the country, but sent word that he intended to resubmit Magruder's nomination, said committee consultant Rubin.
The architect's group also is standing behind Magruder.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who was frequently at odds with the panel over the iPads, said he is not taking sides.
District officials have taken other steps that critics said would limit public review of the technology project. In January, Vladovic announced the impending end of an internal technology committee headed by Ratliff. More recently, officials refused to release the findings of an internal investigation into the project.
I am the longest serving and most senior member. I have been an appointee of Los Angeles Tenth District PTA on-and-off – serving for over a dozen years. I was there when the current memorandum of agreement - the operative agreement establishing the BOC and governing the relationship between the BOC, the District and the Board of Education - was negotiated with LAUSD and the Board of Education. The MOU clearly states that the appointing authority is the appointing authority – and that the Board of Education shall accept the appointment if the appointee is qualified – and those qualifications are that the appointee is not an employee, official, contractor, vendor or consultant of the District. The vote of the Board is to confirm the qualifications, not approve the appointment.
“3.1.8. The Board shall appoint one member nominated by the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter.”
Much is ambiguous in contract law and in legal definition. But the meaning of “shall” is unchanged since Exodus. You have to do it.
The independent appointing authorities are: The Mayor of Los Angeles, The City Controller, The County Auditor, PTA, a senior citizens group (AARP), ,a representative of a charter school group, a taxpayers organization, the Early Childhood Ed Coalition, the Chamber of Commerce, a representative from the general contractors, a representative from the building trade unions and a representative from the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Additionally the Board of Education gets to select and appoint two parents of LAUSD students. Some of these appointing authorities – like PTA and the taxpayers group - are stipulated in the State Law that governs school bonds, Others were established by the Board of Ed when they passed the first BB Bond and created the first Bond Oversight Committee in 1997.. The make up of the committee has changed slightly over the years by mutual consent of the board and the committee.
The issue is that of Independent Oversight – and independence cannot/will not be maintained if the Board can approve or disapprove its overseers.
Independent Oversight was and continues to be the promise made to the voters and taxpayers and all the stakeholders from community members, teachers, district employees, parents and past, present and future students of the District - when we passed all the school facilities bonds from BB to K, R, Y and Q.
Ms. Galatzan says Stuart goes too far in opining on instructional issues – an in other times and circumstances I might agree. But in the Deasy administration bond funds are being used to purchase instructional materials and therefore Stuart’s the Bond Oversight Committee’s opinions are entirely relevant.
I do not agree with Stuart Magruder on some issues; I don’t have to. He is the appointee of the AIA/LA and as long as he has their faith and confidence he is their guy.
There is a lay preacher who regularly makes public comment at BOC and Board Meetings and preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he believes it – he forecasts everlasting damnation if we don’t change our ways. If he’s right, we’re toast. I’ve spoken to him, he’s a nice guy and he is genuinely concerned about my soul and Tamar’s and Dr Deasy’s and Stuart’s and all of us. We may not be listening and we may not be saved - but the National Cemeteries are filled and battlefields around the globe are stained with the blood of those who gave their lives and/or sacrificed their youth so that he could say those things and the rest of us could ignore him.
Take Monday off and think about that.