Last Friday — the 13th, no less — yielded some surprisingly providential news as Superintendent Deasy’s top deputy, Jaime Aquino, declared himself a lame duck “and broken-hearted”, soon-to-be-ex-employee of LAUSD. He is set to resign affective with the new year so we will be paying his salary for another 3 ½ months.

Meanwhile, Aquino’s boss declared himself “very sad to lose such a gifted and talented employee”. And both these Broad graduates lost no time framing the drama as driven by board “micromanagement” and dysfunction in the face of LAUSD’s growing ipad SNAFU.

But there are many who applaud the board’s reluctance to blithely rubber-stamp an ill-conceived plan to blanket the district with itoys. There are too many questions, concerns and hesitations about the rollout of a purchasing contract of this unprecedented size.  It is the authorizing agencies’ responsibility to, in the words of board member Zimmer responding to criticism of his deliberative style, “wring his hands” over public works decisions as momentous and complex as this.

How is it to be justified that short-term, non-durable equipment such as electronics tablets are to be paid using long-term infrastructure and construction bonds? The wireless retrofitting of schools could be conceived as infrastructural “upgrades”, perhaps. But can it be argued that electronic tools are part of the infrastructure?

Perhaps just like window treatments that are considered part of a house when it is sold despite their portable nature, transportable electronics might be conceived as “part of the school’s furniture”. But to argue this sleight of hand the equipment would at a minimum have to stay put within the schools’ walls. And indeed it was declared unequivocally in several public forums from KABC radio to an 8/27/13 City of LA meeting of the Innovation Technology and General Services committee, even as recently as 9/10/13 in Rules and Regulations Concerning Use of Ipads Assigned To Students presented to the LAUSD school board – over and over it has been stated officially that these ipads will not go home with students.

But this is a real dilemma as an enormous component of the equipment’s utility derives from jettisoning the need to lug heavy, expensive textbooks back and forth between home and school. The machines’ pedagogical promise extends internet services right into students’ homes, and yet it is estimated that fully 30% of district families are unable to afford private internet access. In addition to an unknown number of keypads that it transpires must be purchased, the bill to wire most of Los Angeles could be yet an additional $100 million annually. It seems that considerable skepticism about the viability of this ambitious and poorly-thought-out program is not only reasonable, but immanently obliged. That board “damn well should wring [their] hands”. Starting down this very, very long road of endless expenditures amounts to authorizing an unfunded mandate. Has the board actually any authority to indenture the public long-term in this fashion? Is there any legal authority to permit these machines off school grounds at all, regardless of what principals have been instructed to promised their families at official school gatherings?

Beyond the legal question of funding, is the moral one of jeopardy to so many small children transporting what amounts to a valuable, “attractive nuisance” in their backpacks. Jaime Aquino preempted this charge peculiarly pointedly by declaring the contract to have “gone beyond my expectations in terms of the level of integrity and ethics. I think the guiding principle that drove everybody was: What is in the best interest of our kids? I can attest to that. I can sleep tonight, after you vote this contract, I can sleep tonight with my conscience very clear that we did the right thing for our kids,”

Gratuitous protestations notwithstanding, I know of no pre-adolescent indomitable enough to walk about with this much of value on their person. As a parent, relegating my own child to this level of risk as a parent would be frankly irresponsible. For a public official to condone, even facilitate it, is nothing short of negligent.

In the face of accusations that superintendent Aquino came to LAUSD on the heels of employment with the sole software vendor to profit from this $1 billion dollar deal, there is an appearance that far from constructing this contract “in the best interest of our kids”, this contract, at least in its software component, is suspiciously structured in the best interest of the multinational publisher Pearson.

All these relationships appear just too cozy from out here in the cold world of insufficient educational funding. If our schools were not in quite such a desperately decrepit state, this sequestering of construction bond money might not be quite so painful. But as it is, our public school children in large numbers attend schools with insufficient funds to keep their bathrooms clean. Their schools are sweltering hot as air conditioning units remain broken for months. Musical instruments in disrepair are contracted to private repairers at enormous, inefficient expense while music programs are shuttered one by one for lack of funds (and instruments that remain broken). Troubled students attend schools with inadequate psychiatric and counseling assistance; school nurses are a rare luxury on campus. The list goes on and on and on and on with an utter insufficiency of funds to redress a fraction of the desperate conditions. Providing our students with state-of-the-art electronics is a wonderful goal. But prioritizing this ahead of basic human necessities is just a feel-good measure for insulated bureaucrats.

Students need teachers. Our children need adults who care about them. Contact your elected officials and ask them to reconsider carefully how they choose to spend our scarce education dollars.  Spending should reflect the needs of our children not beholden administrators.