The Los Angeles Unified School District’s iPad plan was a signature initiative that generated national attention and fueled debate about how best to get the latest technology to students in less affluent areas.

Share story

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines said Friday the district cannot afford to provide a computer to every student, signaling a major reversal of his predecessor’s ill-fated $1.3 billion effort to distribute iPads to all students, teachers and school administrators.

Instead, Cortines said, the district will try to provide computers to students when they are needed for instruction and testing.

“I don’t believe we can afford a device for every student,” Cortines said. “Education shouldn’t become the gimmick of the year.”

For former Superintendent John Deasy, who resigned under pressure in October, the iPad plan was a signature initiative. It generated national attention and fueled debate about how best to get the latest technology to students in less affluent areas.

Cortines said the reality was that the district never fully prepared for how the devices would be used in the classroom or how to pay for them over time.

He laid out a more measured approach, saying purchasing computers needed to be balanced against other priorities, such as repairing dilapidated campuses.

The initial rollout of iPads at 47 schools in fall 2013 was plagued by problems. One of the first occurred when high-school students deleted security filters so they could freely browse websites. Later, questions arose about close professional relationships that Deasy and his senior deputy, Jaime Aquino, developed with executives from Apple, maker of the iPad, and Pearson, which provided the curriculum on the device. In December, the FBI seized documents related to the project as part of a criminal investigation into the bidding process.

Deasy and other officials have denied wrongdoing and, all along, the former superintendent insisted it was a civil-rights and educational imperative to make technology available to all students.

The district’s iPad problems have come up repeatedly in the run-up to the March 3 school board elections, with most challengers faulting the incumbents for going along with the flawed effort.

Among the incumbents on the ballot, Tamar Galatzan was the most vocal backer of Deasy’s iPad plan, which passed without opposition in 2013.

“At the time the board was told we could afford to get there,” she said Friday. “There were phases in a plan and we were told we had the money” to provide the devices to all students.

“That’s so far in the past,” she added.

Galatzan remains steadfast in her belief that students should be equipped with computers. “Our goal is to get one device for every student, but that’s our long-term goal,” she said.

“Our short-term goal is to make sure every student has access to a computer to complete classroom assignments, and so the teachers can use them in class,” she said.

Board member Monica Ratliff was among the first to raise questions about the project in a technology committee she headed.

She praised Cortines for “taking the issues of the project’s cost and sustainability s

Cortines, who came out of retirement to take over for Deasy, said a task force would meet to help plot the future path on technology.