L.A. Unified uses ‘construction bonds’ to buy $500 million in iPads

Feb. 14, 2013

By Chris Reed

My five-month-old crusade to get the California mainstream media to acknowledge the insanity of “construction bonds” which take 30 years to pay off being used routinely by school districts for short-lived electronics and basic maintenance hasn’t gotten far yet. The most significant article from a respected mainstream education reporter about this outrage came in December from John Fensterwald in EdSource. State newspapers’ education reporters? They can’t be bothered.

Yes, the California media do care about nutty capital appreciation bonds, which can’t be prepaid and delay initial repayments for 20 years out, leading to such ridiculousness as the Poway Unified school district borrowing $105 million that will take $981 million to repay — beginning two decades from now. But the problem of using 30-year borrowing for short-term needs is much worse than CABs. It’s far more common; it’s everywhere.

Maybe what the Los Angeles Unified school board did Wednesday finally will give this issue the attention it deserves:

“During the … meeting, the board also approved {Superintendent John] Deasy’s proposal to spend millions to supply every student and teacher with a tablet computer by 2014. …

“Deasy’s plan to supply all 650,000 students in the district with a tablet computer by 2014 will ultimately cost $500 million. The tablets are supposed to support the transition to Common Core Standards. They are being paid for by revenues raised for school construction bonds R, Y, and Q, which voters approved to address ‘unmet facilities needs.’

“Several school principals spoke during the meeting about a spike in math and English test scores after incorporating tablet apps into their lesson plans.

“Gina Russell-Williams, principal at Curtiss Middle School, said the tablets would help her teachers provide additional intervention and tutorial services to students. Other teachers said teaching students on tablets would allow them to compete with wealthier, smaller, private schools.

“Board member Bennett Kayser abstained from the vote, saying in a statement after the meeting that the process should be slowed down and studied further. No one voted against the measure.”

Is giving kids quality high-tech devices to assist in their education a good idea? Of course.

Is giving kids quality high-tech devices to assist in their education a good idea if bonds to pay for the devices are still being paid off in 2043 — decades after the devices stopped being usable? Of course not. That’s grotesquely irresponsible.

If CEOs did what superintendents did, they’d be in jail

But what would be criminal or subject to shareholder lawsuits in the private sector is just fine in the corrupt world of public education.

The L.A. school board’s actions confirm what I heretofore will refer to as Reed’s Law: Whether in the Legislature or in local school districts, the top priority is always freeing up or increasing revenue to allow tenured teachers to receive the automatic “step” raises that typically are provided for 15 of their first 20 years on the job — just for showing up.

That’s why we see lies about attendance and property tax receipts. That’s why we see grotesque bond abuses. It’s all about preserving the pay status quo for veteran teachers. Understand this, and California politics becomes demystified and uncomplicated.

It’s not “all about the kids.” It’s all about the veteran teachers.

Maybe L.A. Unified spending a half-billion dollars over the next 30 years on iPads that will be broken or stolen by 2016 will finally hammer this home.



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