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LA School District Admits They Don’t Know How They’ll Fund Year Four of Their Billion Dollar iPad Program

The financial 6660095917_3336c5b38d[1]house of cards came tumbling down last week in Los Angeles. At a Tuesday night school board meeting, the LA Unified School District finally admitted what many had long suspected:

They don’t know how they’re going to pay for the ongoing costs of their boondoggle 1:1 iPad program.

While this program is often touted as costing a billion dollars, that only covers the initial cost of buying the iPads and software for all 660,000 students, and making infrastructure improvements so that all 600-odd campuses can use support the iPads. What that billion dollars doesn’t include is the ongoing cost of replacing the iPads every 3 to 4 years; it also doesn’t include the ongoing labor and software costs associated with the program.

On Tuesday the school board floated a few ideas on how they could pay the ongoing costs. According to the LATimes, the options include:

Use funds left over from other bond projects. According to members of a committee appointed to oversee bond spending this option is impractical because current projects are already underfunded, so there is no money to spare.

Put a new bond measure on the local ballot, or on the state ballot. This option could fail due to voter dissatisfaction with the billion dollar boondoggle.
Cut into the existing funding and set aside $100 per child annually from the general fund, starting in the 2016-17 school year to gather as much as $252 million needed by fall 2018.

In short, the proposed funding options include using nonexistent bond funds, cutting into the already tight operating budget, or asking the voters to sign off on more 25 year bonds being used to fund gadgets that will die after 3 years. I don’t see those bond measures passing, do you?

And to make matters worse, the school district still doesn’t know what their future costs will be:

Elements of this projection are optimistic. It estimates that future tablets will cost $200 to $400 apiece. That could prove true — computers have consistently dropped in price. Currently, however, the iPads are costing L.A. Unified $768 apiece. (They’ll cost $21 less once the district has spent $400 million with Apple, which makes the tablets.)

The projection also doesn’t include the expense of updating and expanding electronic curriculum, but officials hope to use textbook funds for that purpose.

The district’s main budget will soon have to bear other program costs as well, more than $50 million a year, for such things as technical staff, security software, network maintenance, increased electricity and Web filtering.

None of this should come as a surprise; the program was announced in June with the ambitious goal of rolling it out to 250 schools by the end of the 2013-2014 school year and achieving complete deployment by the end of the 2014-2015 school year. That schedule has since been delayed by at least a year, but the fact it existed in the first place convinced me that the school board was rushing into things without first understanding the scope, scale, or cost of the endeavour.

Over the past 3 months the LAUSD’s iPad program has been shown to have problems with security issues, funding and training issues, misplaced iPads, and even more funding issues, this time with paying for the first stage of the program.

Given just how many ways this program has already gone wrong, I have to wonder just how the school board is going to screw up next. Perhaps they will divert funds to finance a "retreat" in Las Vegas?

image by flickingerbrad

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fjtorres November 11, 2013 um 6:38 am

A $200 iPad?
Refurbed iPad2’s, maybe.
People have been wondering why Apple keeps the iPad2 on the catalog–maybe it is for these kinds of boondoggle.

John November 11, 2013 um 9:42 am

"I don’t see those bond measures passing, do you?"

We approved an even bigger high-speed rail boondoggle, so all bets are off.

fjtorres November 11, 2013 um 11:34 am

But that was to latch (leech?) on to promised federal funds.
Funding the iPads will be on the local taxpayer only. And it is easier to sell pie in the sky than a known-crappy effort. That’s why most boondoggles try to secure enough up front funding that the innevitable overruns have to be grudgingly funded. This one doesn’t look likely to draw in good money after bad.

JM November 11, 2013 um 2:01 pm

Can you only imagine what you could do with a billion dollar in Education? How many great teachers could you reward or hire? How many school facilities could you improve? How many field trips could you organize? etc, etc.
I guess common sense is definitely an oxymoron.

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