The Big Winners From LAUSD's Emergency Coronavirus Spending: Tech Companies

Teacher Jacqueline Porter-Morris shows second-grade students how to take a picture on an iPad in 2018. (Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

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Since the coronavirus crisis began, Los Angeles Unified School District officials have been engaged in a technology spending spree, buying thousands of laptops, tablets and internet connections so thousands of needy students can continue learning online.

LAUSD has previously announced deals with Verizon and Amazon as part of that effort to bridge a massive "digital divide."

But the biggest recipient — by far — of this emergency LAUSD spending has largely flown under the radar: Apple.

In a memo released this week, LAUSD officials disclosed they reached a $37.7 million deal with Apple in mid-March to purchase "tablets and iPads."

That same week, the school district contracted with a firm called Arey Jones — which has supplied LAUSD and other school districts with computers for years — for $15 million to provide an unspecified number of Chromebooks. All told, LAUSD's deals with Arey Jones since the pandemic began total more than $22 million.


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These tech purchases have not been entirely secret. LAUSD officials have previously disclosed they were purchasing up to 200,000 "Chromebooks, iPads and Windows" devices to supplement the 300,000 devices the district already owns.

Still, the memo shows these two firms have been the biggest outside recipients of dollars LAUSD officials have spent during the pandemic using special emergency powers. On March 10, the L.A. Unified School Board gave district officials extraordinary freedom to reach deals with vendors — including through no-bid contracts — to respond to the crisis.

The other big winners from the district's emergency spending? Food service providers, and other vendors who've reached deals linked to LAUSD's food distribution program. Here's a rundown of the big purchases made using emergency powers:

TECHNOLOGY PURCHASES

The biggest chunk of the $112.3 million described in this memo is tech spending — roughly two-dozen transactions totaling more than $70 million:

  • Apple: $37.7 million for iPads. The memo does not say how many iPads were purchased. Apple, of course, supplies technology to school districts everywhere. However, LAUSD has a particularly fraught history with the computer-maker after the district's previous iPad initiative went sideways in 2014 for a number of reasons, including questions about the then-superintendent's relationship with the software provider, Pearson. During the pandemic, LAUSD's Bond Oversight Committee has blessed the use of bond dollars to cover the district's emergency computer purchases, but the panel is still not a fan of using bond money for tech purchases — skepticism that dates back to that earlier failed iPad initiative.
  • Arey Jones: In total, LAUSD completed five separate transactions with this technology supplier. It's not clear how many Chromebooks LAUSD received in exchange for the largest transaction — the $15 million purchase in the first week of the crisis. On March 27, the district purchased 12,000 Windows devices and 10,000 Chromebooks for another $6.9 million. On April 2, there was a smaller, $30,000 purchase of 23 laptops. Finally, on April 9, LAUSD spent $82,000 on "round trip totes to protect delivery of the iPads." Total — $22 million.
  • Verizon: The district's deal with the wireless provider to provide internet hotspots for students was one of the first to be announced — and initially, neither LAUSD or Verizon opted to disclose terms. But the amount of emergency spending on this deal turns out to be a relatively small sum. Total — $4.6 million.
  • T-Mobile: While LAUSD announced a new agreement with Verizon, there was little publicity for the district's arrangement with another wireless internet provider. Over the course of the crisis, LAUSD ramped up an existing contract with T-Mobile to a total of $2.4 million.
The Grab and Go Food Center's staff hands out lunches for students to parents in their cars outside of Hollenbeck Middle School. (Chava Sanchez/Laist)

A FEW OTHER TAKEAWAYS

  • The second-largest source of emergency spending were food service providers, who've aided the district's efforts to hand out millions of meals during the pandemic — at a cost of roughly $30 million. Combined, food and tech purchases comprise roughly nine out of every 10 emergency dollars LAUSD has spent.
  • LAUSD has spent roughly $3.3 million on cleaning supplies and personal protective gear — not including more than 300,000 surgical masks and 100,000 N95 masks purchased on March 25 "for the Grab and Go food program." Two days later, LAUSD appears to have donated the 100,000 N95 masks to 10 hospitals. Remember?
  • While LAUSD has announced it will contract with Amazon to improve its online learning systems, those deals don't appear in this memo. The only mentions of Amazon describe a $1.9 million purchase of 131,000 pairs of headphones.
  • LAUSD has announced an expanded summer school program — which normally features programs for students to make up credits they've missed. Under the emergency spending powers, LAUSD officials spent roughly $6.5 million to purchase 70,000 credit recovery course licenses from current provider Edgenuity — 30,000 to make up semester-long high school courses, 40,000 for middle school courses.