LAUSD reappoints member of bond oversight panel after uproar
Howard Blume | LA Times http://lat.ms/1phTm56
June 17, 2014 | 9:14 pm :: An effort to silence a critic of the Los Angeles school district's $1-billion technology program backfired Tuesday, when the Board of Education quietly returned him Tuesday to an oversight panel.
The move by the school board to reappoint architect Stuart Magruder to the Bond Oversight Committee was hailed as a victory by his colleagues and supporters as well as by critics of the Los Angeles Unified School District and its technology effort.
I don't want to stifle anyone's thoughts. I want to hear thoughts that are contrary to the official position. - Richard Vladovic, president of the L.A. school board
"The board did what we hoped and expected them to do — the right thing," said Quynh Nguyen, who attended the meeting as part of a delegation from the watchdog panel. "Once board members had time to think about it, they recognized the importance of independence and that the public also recognizes the value of independent oversight."
<< Magruder, 47, was a frequent critic of the district's effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and school administrator in the nation's second-largest school system. The program is expected to exhaust all of the technology money available from the voter-approved bonds.The district's original choice of device was the iPad, which officials had planned to distribute on a rapid timetable. But in response to critics, including Magruder, the school system has slowed the rollout and also looked anew at other devices.
Board member Tamar Galatzan, an ardent backer of the iPad effort, led the earlier move against Magruder, unleashing a torrent of protest. The board last month had refused to grant Magruder a second, two-year term on the panel, which has no authority to enforce its recommendations.
Galatzan has accused Magruder of improperly intruding into instructional decisions. She also accused Magruder of voting against projects unless they used architects. Magruder has denied that allegation.
Other members of the panel defended his integrity.
Committee members are unpaid and not allowed to have any financial ties to the school system.
Magruder was the nominee of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, one of several groups allowed to select a member for the panel. The school board, which chooses two parent members, is required to ratify the choice of each outside group. There is disagreement over whether it has the authority to reject a nominee.
Magruder had strong support from board members Monica Ratliff, Steve Zimmer and Bennett Kayser, who proposed the reappointment.
The needed fourth vote came from board President Richard Vladovic. At last month's meeting, Vladovic had opposed Magruder in deference to Galatzan, saying she had "done the homework" and he had not.
In an interview, Vladovic said he has since looked into Magruder's record. Vladovic added that it was important to confirm that Magruder had the support of Supt. John Deasy, who has been at odds with the oversight committee during the iPad project.
"I don't want to stifle anyone's thoughts," Vladovic said. "I want to hear thoughts that are contrary to the official position."
Two board members opposed his reappointment: Galatzan and Monica Garcia.
Garcia declined to comment. Through a spokeswoman, Galatzan said she had not altered her views on Magruder. During the meeting, she called for an audit of the bond panel, which is supposed to occur annually, but has not. She wants the review to go back seven years.
Galatzan has criticized the watchdog panel on various issues — in some cases faulting it for providing too little oversight.
Deasy has delegated the audit to the district's inspector general, L.A. Unified spokesman Thomas Waldman said.
Magruder, a district parent, was not present at the meeting, but he quickly tweeted his gratitude for the support that had come his way.
"Here's to an engaged public and an active press!" he wrote.
L.A. Unified watchdog back on the job
LA Times columnist Steve Lopez | http://lat.ms/T7kCa5
June 17, 2014 8:08 pm :: Maybe it was the relaxing summer vibe, the time to reflect or the widespread criticism of their small-minded ploy.
I'm guessing it was the latter.
But on Tuesday, members of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education reversed a decision to dump a savvy critic who raised inconvenient questions about the district's $1-billion plan to give every student in the district an iPad.
Stuart Magruder, an architect and L.A. Unified dad who was a member of the district's volunteer Bond Oversight Committee, was reappointed on a 4-2 vote by the same board that sent him packing in May.
"I think it's good for keeping our electeds accountable," Magruder said of the decision.
Indeed. L.A. Unified has a roughly $7-billion budget, and voters have approved $20 billion worth of school improvement bonds since 1997. If anything, the superintendent and school board need more oversight, not less.
Magruder, whose ouster was the subject of my Sunday column, made an important point Tuesday. Why would voters ever again approve a bond for much-needed building repairs and upgrades if the school board is seen as inclined to steamroll anyone who asks tough questions?
Two of the staunchest supporters of Supt. John Deasy's iPad initiative — board members Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan — cast the two dissenting votes Tuesday, but neither offered an explanation.
Galatzan, who told me last week that she thinks the oversight committee oversteps its bounds by steering into policy and curriculum issues, called for an audit of the committee at Tuesday's meeting. That might be useful, but it came off as petty and peevish.
The four votes for Magruder came from Richard Vladovic, Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratliff.
As I noted Sunday, Magruder and other critics aren't anti-technology. This is the 21st century, and nobody wants the district's 600,000-plus students left behind. But he raised a number of legitimate questions, beginning with whether it's appropriate to use bond money — which is paid back over 30 years — to buy electronics with a life span of three to five years.
Then there was the district's full-blown rush to purchase a software curriculum that wasn't even completed, and its eagerness to do business with Apple — despite high costs and possible conflicts, including a promotional iPad video done by Deasy.
It was as if district officials were on a shopping binge, with little or no consideration of price or value, and no hard evidence of how and why students and teachers would benefit. Only under pressure from Magruder and others did the district slow down and give more thought to a smarter rollout.
So what do we need to keep an eye on, going forward?
Just about everything.
"I think we definitely need to move slowly," said board member Ratliff.
She said she wants the district to figure out how to get textbooks onto the devices so kids aren't lugging 40-pound backpacks all day. And she wants more consideration of student safety when "walking the streets with these devices."
Scott Folsom, an oversight committee member, said he's awaiting results of a district study comparing student performance on laptops versus tablets.
"This is important data the whole state is going to be looking at, and I would like to see the comparison," said Folsom, who added that he won't be inclined to support more spending (the committee's votes are nonbinding) without that and other information in hand.
Although the initial district plan was to buy an iPad for every student, teacher and administrator as quickly as humanly possible, oversight committee Chairman Steve English had another thought. It might make more sense to use multiple devices, and different software curriculum, depending on grade level and other factors.
Tom Rubin, a consultant to the oversight committee, said the district needs to factor in the possibility of allowing students to use devices they already own rather than buying one for everybody.
Magruder still has several fundamental concerns, including this one:
"I cannot for the life of me see how an elementary school kid needs an iPad, and how that's moving the pedagogical ball forward."
Magruder said he believes a primary district objective is to digitally catalog test data and use it to evaluate teachers, but he's not sure they have adequately addressed a more central issue.
"If we're spending all this money, let's figure out how to make it fantastic for the kids."
What would also be fantastic, if you ask me, is to have the district release its internal report on the bidding process that led to the iPad choice. The district's inspector general raised questions about it, according to a report by my colleague Howard Blume. And even though the Los Angeles County district attorney's office decided criminal charges weren't warranted, questions remain.
As Blume reported, citing district sources, a member of the district's review panel owned a significant amount of Apple stock. And the district conveniently claims to have lost the scoring sheets used to rate bids by other vendors, which is one step short of saying the dog ate your homework.
The district has argued that the internal report is not a public matter. But unless there's something to hide, why not come clean and regain a little public confidence before asking to spend several hundred million dollars more on the next phase of the technology rollout?
"If they continue to try to keep that report under attorney-client privilege," Magruder said, the district will only raise suspicion, just as it did when board members opted not to reappoint him in May.
"I really would call on the district to release it," he added. "It's certainly relevant to the decision-making process."
It's good to have him back.
LAUSD CRITIC STUART MAGRUDER REAPPOINTED TO BOND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE
By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1l32OIi
6/17/14, 7:29 PM PDT :: An outspoken critic of Los Angeles Unified’s plan to spend $1 billion on iPads was reappointed Tuesday to his role overseeing school bond spending.
Stuart Magruder, who had openly criticized the purchase of iPads with bond money, which is traditionally reserved for building new schools and improving aging facilities, was not reappointed on May 20 to the School Bond Oversight Committee.
Board Member Bennett Kayser raised the issue Tuesday, and with little discussion the board voted 4-2 to appoint Magruder to the 15-member School Bond Oversight Committee.
Matthew Kogan, a teacher, asked the board to reappoint Magruder.
“I think Mr. Magruder was doing his job and should be reappointed,” Kogan said.
Board members Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia voted against returning Magruder to the oversight committee.
The two did not offer an explanation for their votes.
Galatzan led the May 20 charge to reject Magruder’s reappointment. At the time, she said, Magruder had overstepped his bounds.
But the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects stood behind Magruder in a May 23 letter to board members.
The organization, which is a stakeholder in the bond committee and had nominated Magruder as its representative, requested legal clarity as to whether bond money can be spent on iPads.
The organization also cited a written agreement, in which the school board agrees to appoint its nominees — a cursory step that leaves decision-making authority to stakeholders and not school board members.