Investigation says Cobb County 'deceived' public

There was more fallout over the weekend from Cobb County, Ga.’s failed “Power to Learn” laptop computing program, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution . An investigation into the program said that the school system “deceived” the public in choosing which Apple as the company to supply it with laptop computers.

First announced in May, the “Power to Learn” program was heralded as the potentially biggest ever one-to-one computing initiative in the country. Apple and Cobb County announced plans to deploy 17,000 iBooks for teachers district-wide and for students at four “demonstration” schools across the district. If researchers at the University of Georgia had found the plan effective, a total of 63,000 iBooks could have been deployed across the school district. No sooner had the plan been announced than it ran into trouble.

Former Cobb County commissioner Butch Thompson filed a lawsuit to stop the program dead in its tracks. The money used to pay for the iBooks was culled from a special county wide sales tax ratified by voters in 2003. Thompson claimed that taxpayers agreed to fund an upgrade of obsolete computer systems throughout the school system, but never authorized Cobb County school officials to buy laptops.

Superior Court Judge S. Lark Ingram agreed, citing that the funding procedure was in question, not the merit of the program. Ingram halted the program in late July. Shortly thereafter, the Cobb County school board killed the iBook program all together.

A report commissioned by the Cobb County School Board from Kessler International — a firm that specializes in corporate investigations and forensic accounting — doesn’t appear to lay the blame at Apple’s feet, but paints a critical picture of the Cobb County school district’s bidding process. Among their findings, Kessler has concluded that Apple got the contract even though it didn’t initially make the final cut of companies to be considered. Kessler also alleges that the Cobb County Central Office staff lied to investigators and cites “discrepancies” in record-keeping.

A separate investigation is underway by the Cobb County District Attorney’s office and may lead to criminal charges, according to the report.

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