The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board weighed in last week on the plan by the Los Angeles Unified School District's Superintendent John Deasy to put a tablet in the backpack of every LAUSD student — and the verdict of the editorial board is that Deasy is getting ahead of himself.
Praising the officials overseeing the money raised by the recent district-initiated bond issue, the LA Times editorial says that the board members were right to vote down Deasy's $450 million technology plan, if only because it was too vague and poorly considered.
Although the decision – which went against Deasy by one vote – isn't binding, and the final disbursement could still be approved, Deasy has already waved the white flag by saying that he would not bring it forward again. The Times says that LAUSD should by all means bring technology into its schools, but before it does so, both the superintendent and other district officials should make sure that they are moving forward in the most efficient and frugal way possible.
The purchase of personal computing devices for 650,000 students within a couple of years is the sort of proposal that attracts big headlines and makes school officials look like cutting-edge leaders, but it could easily turn into a boondoggle of extraordinary and unforeseen expense.
According to the editorial, the proposal had already undergone several revisions between being made public and being put to a vote. Initially the plan called for a purchase of a tablet for every LAUSD student from K to 12th grade. The first revision saw an all-tablet version dumped for a mix of tablets, laptops and smartphones — but how many of each and for whom was left as a detail to be determined later.
There were other indications that the tech proposal wasn't as thoroughly analyzed as it ought to have been. When, prior to the vote, Deasy was asked how he was planning to handle the not-at-all unexpected issue of technology theft, he had no answer to offer. He was likewise unsure if the issued gadgets would be taken home by the students every night or were they to be left on school property once the last school bell had sounded.
It remains unclear whether the purchase would be an appropriate, or even legal, use of school bond money. Bonds are intended to pay for capital expenditures — construction, purchase and renovation of land, buildings and durable equipment that will last at least somewhat close to the 20 years or more of the bond program. Bond expenditures have been approved in the past for classroom desktop computers, but it's unclear whether tablets or laptops would be as durable, and usually, bonds may not be used to buy equipment that students take home. Textbooks, for example, may not be purchased with bond money.