When reports about the true price of iPads purchased by San Diego Unified with bond money surfaced a few years ago, residents and taxpayer advocates scoffed.

Devices that usually cost $400 — financed over as many as 40 years with interest — ballooned to a whopping $4,000 per device when warranties and accessories were factored in.

“Wait, so we’ll be paying for these iPads when we’re like 55?” said a mock text message that appeared as part of campaign message against a 2012 school bond. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association called the iPad price tag “obscene” when arguing against the same bond effort.

School officials at the time defended the inflated cost as necessary for the rollout of a 2009 initiative that put computer devices in the hands of each of the district’s 130,000 students.

But the criticism took hold and the district made changes, said Lee Dulgeroff, San Diego Unified’s chief facilities officer. Dulgeroff oversees Proposition Z and the earlier Proposition S bond programs, approved by voters in 2012 and 2008 respectively.

“We listened to our critics,” Dulgeroff said. “We thought, ‘You know, they’re right. We really should be using shorter maturity bonds to do this.’ At the time we thought it was real important. Technology still is really important and it was important, but we felt we wanted to match the life of the device with the type of financing.”

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Now, Dulgeroff said, “The device is paid off before the device wears out. It’s kind of like you and I would do. We wouldn’t take out a home equity line of credit to buy groceries.”

The district has purchased more than 87,000 personal technology devices using $43 million in bonds that are repaid in two years or less, according to district figures. The devices include 7,100 iPads, 2,400 netbooks, 32,000 Android tablets and 45,000 Lenovo laptops that convert to tablets.

Previously, in perhaps the worst case, the district in 2010 sold 40-year bonds to buy iPads at $420 each, plus $116 in warranties and accessories. No payments are being made on the bond debt for 20 years as interest compounds, then the district will spend the following 20 years paying off the bonds.

In the end, the district will pay off the iPads purchased in 2010 from 2030 to 2050 at a much higher cost, averaging almost eight times the original amount. In contrast, paying the debt off quickly at low interest rates drastically cuts down the repayment price to less than two times the original amount.

So the once $4,000 iPad is now, by our calculations, only about $700.

“We are really happy that they have worked their way back to sanity,” said Mark Leslie, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “They are doing the right thing now, using short-term financing in a good interest rate environment.”

Short-term bonds are also being used for classroom furniture and other technology equipment, like routers and electronic white boards, although no figures on those purchases were readily available, district officials said.

Here are the district’s specifics on student devices purchased over the last three years:

sdusd device costs

    This article relates to: Education, News, School Bonds

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    bcat subscriber

    Still a sad state of affairs.  The technology is landfill after 3 - 5 years and does little for learning.

    The concept of a bond is to pay for a "big ticket" item over a long period of time.  You do it with a bond because you cannot afford it now and/or it has a long term payout.  The tablet does not have this type of benefit and it is fragile (breakable).

    I watch my children try to learn through an iPad.  It does have "video" and electronic highlighting and is much lighter.  However, it actually reduces the amount of surface area for learning (what you say?).  When I learned with paper, I could open a book and see two pages + do my homework on another page (or computer).  This is about x3 - x5 the size of the window the iPad offers you to information.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    I'm not "just asking," I'm declaring that paying $700 for a $400 item is still insane. And stupid. And, most cogently, really bad management!

    Also, school districts in US should not be buying laptops made by a Chinese company (Lenovo). Even if they are made in China, buy Dell, or at least some American-owned brand.

    community_watch subscriber

    Using bond money for iPads and curriculum within the LAUSD drew huge criticism from many different factions.  So much so that it sparked both an FBI and SEC investigation.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Repairs-Not-IPads/228827333958584  The LAUSD has since cancelled the program.

    The next questions for the SDUSD:  What is your threshold for a capital expenditure using school bond money?  LAUSD had a minimum threshold of $500.  What say you SDUSD?  Can you justify using capital appreciation bond money to purchase iPads and laptops that may not even qualify as a capital expenditure?  Is the purchase of iPads or laptops really a priority when neither of these items showed up on any needs assessment that was conducted for each school District wide and there was no mention of buying iPads or laptops for every student within either Prop S or Prop Z bond measures? Just asking.... 

    community_watch subscriber

    @Kathy S @community_watch 

    To start off, I am fully aware that all ICOC members are volunteers and are appointed by the BoE.

    But to answer your question, I think the current ICOC is doing a lousy job.  Let’s start with their mission statement that is front and center on the ICOC website which you also provided in your response.  First off you will notice the ICOC mission statement hasn’t even been updated on the website to state that this ICOC is responsible for overseeing both Prop. S and Prop Z funds.

    Yes, the District is meeting the requirement to have an ICOC in place which they are legally required to do and yes all of the members are appointed by the BoE.  But as far as “actively review the proper expenditure of Prop. S. (and Prop. Z) funds and informs the public concerning Prop. S (and Prop. Z) expenditures” this committee falls way short.  I was going to direct you to the section of the ICOC website titled “ICOC Transmissions to the Board” but after looking just now I discover the link to those archives is missing from the ICOC website.  So much for transparency.  Anyway, the only transmission from the ICOC to the BoE in the last 2 years has been the urgent need to have vacancies filled on the committee itself.  The previous ICOC committee at least communicated to the BoE if there were concerns in one area or another regarding proper bond spending.  They at least took a position on something, voiced some concerns.  The current board does everything but actively review projects to determine if the projects being planned by the District are proper expenditures per the bond language.  They are more concerned with Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) and equity across the District which they should not even be concerned with in their ICOC role because it is “not” part of the mission statement or purpose.  Most of the folks on the ICOC and the District seem to be treating the bond program as a jobs program which is unfortunate.  The District should be meeting the “needs” of our schools, not the “wants and desires” of our schools or the whims of our elected officials.  Unfortunately this is not the case and the bond projects end up being “Gold Plated” and are expanded well above what is required in the needs assessment that was conducted at each school.  But this should probably be no surprise when we look at the current make-up of the ICOC.  Here are a few of the 10 members:

    ICOC Chair is Executive Manager of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).

    ICOC Secretary Vice Chair is also on the Board of Directors of the National Concrete Institute (NCI San Diego International Chapter).

    ICOC board member is the Managing Regional Director, Southern California at California Charter Schools Association.

    ICOC board member is retired head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council

    ICOC board member is the Political Director / Field Representative at IUPAT (International Union of Painters and Allied Trades) District Council 36 & Local 831.

    Point being, I believe that most of the ICOC board members are not in any way independent citizens as the title implies, and most have a vested interest in projects becoming inflated.  Unfortunately this means that precious bond money may not be around come time to fund some actual desperately needed improvements to the schools like keeping the roofs from leaking on the iPads…