The LAUSD school board on Tuesday rejected the reappointment of one of its most rigorous overseers in what many see as retaliation for questioning the use of bond funds to purchase iPads.
Stuart Magruder, AIA, LEED, is the appointee of the American Institute of Architects, one of the organizations charged with providing public oversight of the school district’s expenditure of billions of dollars in bond funds.
How does the entity being overseen fire its overseer? This short video of the clumsy hearing answers that question: sloppily.
Board President Richard Vladovic and Vice President Steve Zimmer took turns chairing the 15-minute discussion so many times, it was hard to keep track of who was in charge. Zimmer accepted an amendment by Tamar Galatzan to remove Magruder from consideration without bothering with a vote.
Apart from procedural shenanigans, the substance is far more important. In what should have been a routine confirmation of the AIA’s representative, Galatzan declared Magruder unfit for the role. She did not explain that he had dared to question Superintendent John Deasy’s $1 billion iPad project. She said he had overstepped by evaluating projects based on their instructional value. (The Committee’s mission includes ensuring that bond expenditures are “educationally sound”). Anyone who has ever witnessed a Bond Oversight Committee hearing can describe the routine discussions about how projects support curriculum, as well there should be.
Galatzan also erroneously claimed that Magruder had a policy not to approve bond projects unless they provided work to architects. Nevermind the two years worth of public record showing the opposite. In fact, the bulk of the projects before the Bond Oversight Committee during Magruder’s tenure have been repairs and maintenance, for which architects are rarely required to complete the job. But they do provide knowledgeable advice.
That’s where things got dicey.
It was much easier for the school district to push the iPad boondoggle through by claiming critics were simply adults who just didn’t understand computers like the kids do. But Magruder does understand the importance of technology in education—and he knows his way around a “Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment” budget. In fact, he had read the iPad contract word for word.
Magruder is no slouch. He may look like a surfer dude or like he jumped off the cover of a romance novel, but he earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton and a Master’s degree from the Southern California Institute of Architecture. With professional experience in a heavily regulated and often litigious profession, he brings a depth of knowledge to rigorously evaluate projects. He worked on the $300-million San Jose Civic Center that covers two city blocks while working at Richard Meier & Partners, one of the most highly respected architecture offices in the world.
Working with advanced technology in his own practice, both in the studio and in specifying equipment for building projects, Magruder has a pretty good sense of the role technology plays in preparing today’s students for college and career. He also knew firsthand how the iPad roll-out was—and wasn’t—working because he has children in LAUSD schools.
Magruder effectively parsed details of the Common Core Technology Project and reviewed the complex contracts of this unprecedented $1 billion proposal. His ongoing analysis provided important information for school board members to evaluate this public project, slow it down and improve the remaining implementation phases. Along the way, he contributed to a national debate about school districts implementing astronomical technology purchases.
A former president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Magruder is no rabble rouser. Asking the right questions should not cost him his seat. Nor should it cost the school district the credibility architects bring in reviewing how construction bonds are spent in the nation’s second largest school district.
If LAUSD wants the public’s support for billion-dollar expenditures, it needs the trust that is earned through the kind of scrutiny that Magruder was providing. His ouster will be yet another blow to public accountability in a school district that demands it from everyone but itself.