LAUSD keeps trying to put its technology demons behind it.

But the ghost of tech projects past is still haunting. Yesterday, it visited the school board room during a Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) hearing.

At the meeting, the Chief Information Officer Shahryar Khazei promised an end to the past streak of “massive failures of Biblical proportions,” such as the iPad scandal and the MiSiS crisis (student information system) that sent former superintendent John Deasy packing.

But a sweeping technology agenda item #7 (page 81), encompassing four huge projects, seemed awfully resistant to being coaxed into the light. What could be seen looked eerily familiar. All were being pushed by LAUSD administrative staff without any meaningful public input.

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The four projects:

·         Learning Management System – $23 Million – A platform that allows for personalized learning, online gradebook, deployment of professional development, teacher/student/parent communication, teacher collaboration, and integration with other instructional tools.

·         Unified Enrollment System – $24 Million – Unified Enrollment will provide a one-stop online search engine and application system that allows families to locate and save their school program preferences, rank schools, submit a placement application.

·         Enterprise Reporting System – $8 Million – A self-service report generator for MiSiS, Welligent, MyData (existing data systems).

·         40 School Telecommunications Modernization Projects – $24 Million – Replacement of telephone and P.A. systems at school sites.

That last one might be the only project that seemed to reflect what voters intended when they passed five school bond measures. Is an enrollment system used in a school district’s central office an operating expense? If so, it might need to be paid for out of the General Fund rather than the Bond Fund. The BOC seemed unconcerned about that though.

Standing at the bond trough, administration staff from the I.T. department strangely touted the Learning Management system as so good that the country of Uruguay uses it.

Really.

The Learning Management system and Unified Enrollment system raised so many questions that two committee members tried to divide the matter to allow the other two projects to be voted on unencumbered. Ultimately, all four projects remained together, but a vote failed for lack of a quorum. Why the BOC bothered to vote without enough active members present is a mystery. Only six of the Committee’s ten members even attended the meeting, and a whopping four of the 15 seats are vacant.

Without a recommendation from the BOC, the projects are still expected to advance to the School Board for its May 9th meeting. The rules call for a hearing, not for approval.

Whether the School Board will vote without the information that seemed to be lacking for the BOC is anybody’s guess. With the Unified Enrollment alone having a price tag of $24 million, one would think that both the advisory BOC and the School Board would get to see a budget, or at least a list of items that the $24 million would buy. Or is it lease? Or is it develop? Is it hardware or software? Is training for users included? We don’t know because the RFP #2000001340 is under a “Cone of Silence”.

BOC member Rachel Greene got the stink eye more than once during the meeting, maybe for interrupting the expedited presentation to ask some exploratory questions. Greene, a parent who represents the PTA on the committee, wondered if the School Board had even voted on a policy of Unified Enrollment before the BOC would approve spending $24 million to implement it. She said that before heading down the road toward what might be a district wide enrollment lottery system, it would be helpful to know the Board’s policy intent.

“Cart before the horse?” she asked.

LAUSD's CEO of Project Management and Digital Innovation, Diane Pappas tried to reassure the BOC by explaining that they had been meeting privately in individual board members’ offices and had gotten their buy-in.

So much for public scrutiny.

Continuing to make their pitch, I.T. staff said that of course the Board backed this policy. After all, Unified Enrollment was even in Superintendent Michelle King’s Strategic Plan.

They must have missed the memo—or news articles—reporting the Board’s refusal to vote on the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan.

LA Times: L.A. School Board won’t vote to approve superintendent’s strategic plan

KPCC: LAUSD’s King urges school board to approve retooled 3-year plan

If this is where the Unified Enrollment policy exists, it hasn’t been approved by the Board. So far, all we have are sales jobs. (I wrote last week about the slick presentation at the Early Childhood and Parent Engagement Committee meeting.)

BOC member Greene's comment about approving a bond before approving the policy that justified it applies equally to the whole process. Instead of a truly public process, the LAUSD administration seems to have done an end run: a sales job on the Board of Education in private meetings, without the benefit of input from critical or moderating points of view. It seems the BOC was expected to harvest in public what had already been planted and watered in private.  A thumbs-up from the little-known BOC would have taken the heat off the Board of Education and made its vote a foregone conclusion.

It seems the only lesson we’ve learned from the iPad fiasco is that the iPad deal was bad, but nothing about the flaws in the process that produced that terrible deal.

Let’s bring the ghost out into the spotlight. We’ll look at who’s driving this in my next post.

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