Cobb County school superintendent resigns

Cobb County, Ga. superintendent of schools Joseph Redden has resigned in the wake of a controversy over the county’s planned deployment of Apple iBooks. The superintendent announced his resignation on Tuesday.

Cobb County’s “Power to Learn” initiative once promised to be the largest “one-to-one” iBook initiative ever — if it had proceeded as first expected, more than 63,000 iBooks would have eventually found their way into the hands of students in grades 6 through 12 and teachers across Cobb County.

As it was, all Cobb County teachers were expected to get iBooks, along with students at four “demonstration site” schools throughout the county — a total of 17,000 laptops. Experts from the University of Georgia were then to have reviewed the program to test its effectiveness. If approved, the iBooks would have been rolled out to more students.

But the program never got off the ground. Following a very limited deployment to only a few teachers in the district, the rollout was halted. Former Cobb County commissioner Butch Thompson sued to stop the program, and the Georgia Superior Court judge who heard the case in July agreed with Thompson’s assertions.

What was in question, said the judge, wasn’t the merit of the program, but how the money used to pay for it was justified to taxpayers. The money used was pulled from a special sales tax ratified by Cobb County residents in 2003. That money was described as paying for upgrades to the school system’s obsolete computers, not for a laptop program on the scale that had been planned.

The program drew sharp divisions within the community. Proponents of the program claimed it would increase student participation and provide access to computers for underprivileged kids in the district who didn’t already have systems at home. Opponents questioned whether laptops would improve student learning and balked at the multi-million dollar price tag.

Following the judge’s decision, Cobb County school officials elected to kill the program all together. In mid-August, Kessler International, a corporate investigation firm hired by the school district, offered a damning review of the program. Kessler concluded that Cobb County school officials “deceived” the public in choosing Apple as the laptop vendor, after Apple had been excluded from the final list of companies to be considered. What’s more, Kessler alleged that Cobb County officials lied to investigators and cited “discrepancies” in recordkeeping. Redden challenged Kessler’s assertions, but voices within the community had already been calling for his dismissal or his resignation.

Cobb County School Board officials plan to begin a search for Redden’s replacement later this week.

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