Directors Discuss the
Sorry State of Tech
Expenditures in 2012
As a result of our economic crisis, school districts are required to
think more strategically about money than ever before. “We can no
longer fly by the seat of our pants,” says Rich Kaestner, who directs
CoSN’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)/Value of Investment
(VOI) and Green Computing initiatives. “Technology directors
need to put structure around the decision-making process and do a
better job of determining which projects make the most sense.”
CoSN’s VOI Leadership Initiative (www.cosn.org/voi) provides methodology and tools to help
districts measure and articulate the costs and
benefits of proposed technology projects.
SchoolCIO recently asked a group of
technology leaders to talk about how they justify
technology expenses. Here are their two cents—
and then some.
SchoolCIO: Do you feel increased pressure
to justify current or proposed technology
Steve Young: In this climate, everything is
being scrutinized more. These considerations are
causing all of us to make a lot of hard
choices. I don’t know that it always
translates into more questioning from
our board or superintendents, but
I’m looking very carefully at budget
expenditures. I’m not going to calculate
ROI for everything I’m looking at, but
I do think there’s an increased need for
being able to justify certain projects as
budgets get leaner.
Lewis Wynn: Our budgets—like
everyone else’s—have been slashed. I
have to scrutinize all purchases and
am forced to focus on high-priority
purchases. Prioritizing my lists has
become very important. In the past, if
you had 100 things to do you could just
start at the top and spread them out
throughout the year. Now it’s a matter
of working your way down the list and
seeing how far you can get.
Kevin Schwartz: We’ve moved so much of
our funding to bond money that I have
to justify everything. I have to show all
the offsets if I want to do something.
Wynn: That’s a hard place to be. If
a bond doesn’t pass it’s back to the
Alice Owen: I try to be very clear
about our needs and always tie the
expenditure specifically to instruction.
We have a culture here that supports
technology, so it has not been difficult
for me to get things passed.
Dan Honoré: In
Wisconsin, it is more
difficult to make any large
purchases of $100,000 or
more. Last year we moved
to zero-based budgeting.
We all start with zero and
define what we want to do,
why it needs to be done,
and how we’ll do it. There’s also a
selection process for larger projects.
At this point, the district is more
about maintenance than progressive,
SchoolCIO: Are any of you
required to do RTI for any projects?
Honoré: I use cost-benefit
analysis, ROI, and TCO to show that
major purchases are worthwhile.
Unfortunately, when your ROI is 12 years out, they
won’t look at the project. If I can get it within a year,
then I have a good chance.
Young: We’re not required to use those tools,
but like Dan said, if you can show there’s a return—
and the quicker the better—you can make a good
argument. If you can make a great ROI case then
it’s almost a no-brainer.
Schwartz: I’m not required to do ROI, but
every time I have done it it’s been helpful to at
least show the offsets. Numbers help,
especially if they show savings on the
management and operations side.
Nancy Toll: We were one of the
first pilot projects to try out CoSN’s
VOI tool. We were trying to compare
the effectiveness of offering our own
hybrid online courses for high school
students versus purchasing online
courses that students would complete
on their own. The tool was very helpful
as it made us define our objectives for
the project and how we were going to
measure its success. In the end, we
found that our students really like being
at school, due to the social aspects and
extracurricular activities, so we haven’t
grown our online classes. It was very
helpful to go through the process and I
hope to use it again in the future.
Wynn: Here in Rockdale we’ve been
really conscious of doing good ROI and
TCO to make sure we understand the costs and the
return. We’re moving to a cloud-based phone system
simply because the cost benefits were so great we
couldn’t ignore it. Even though we’d all prefer to have
our phone system in-house and under our control, it’s
about saving money. We’ll save even more because
support and maintenance will be outsourced.
Schwartz: Budgets are so tight you have to
know the ROI. There’s no wiggle room anymore.
If you come up $10,000 short somewhere, that’s a
trip to the board.
Honoré: There is a lot more
pressure to get it right the first time.
SchoolCIO: Are the vendors
working with you more, helping you
Wynn: I find that the vendors are
being very competitive. It’s impacting
their bottom line a lot so it gives you a bit
more of an edge. They understand they
need to give a good price to get the job.
Honoré: We are required to do an RFP for
anything over $10,000. Usually I can work
with my vendors by asking them to get it under
$10,000 so I don’t have to do a full RFP and take
an additional two months.
Young: RFPs are where I think I’ve seen the
biggest change. If you do an RFP for iPads there’s
only one vendor. But when there’s an RFP, we
can leverage the competition. It’s been so price
competitive among vendors that’s our district has
benefited. When we can fund a project we’ve been
able to get some really aggressive pricing.
SchoolCIO: What advice do you have for
other technology directors out there?
Owen: Look at all of the services you provide
to your organization and come up with a value
that they bring, such as what it would cost if
you outsourced the work. Show how the things
you do and the people you support provide real
benefit to the overall organization. We talk about
technology as an investment in our future.
Toll: I think it is very important for CIOs to
have a good team of teachers, administrators,
students, and parents to help devise an
overall vision, mission, and goals for the
district’s technology department. After that, it’s
up to the CIO to implement that plan effectively,
be financially accountable, and remember to
include necessary professional development and
public relations so that no initiative is ever seen
simply as the purchase of a lot of physical devices.
Wynn: It’s very important to use some of
the CoSN and other third-party tools to help
validate and justify your
position. You don’t want it
to look like it’s just coming
from you. You need to be
able to say, “This is why
we need to do it.” Don’t
just rely on your paper and
pencil. When you bring
in that other voice, it adds
legitimacy to your request.
Honoré: I agree
100 percent. The CoSN tools will validate
what you’re looking to do. I also look at other
districts, especially within my state, that have
done what I’m looking to do. That goes a
long way with the leadership and
the board because it makes them
more comfortable about how what
we’re about to do for X number of
dollars works. Any time you can
tie it to strategic initiatives within
the district, it goes a long way. If
you can tie it to instruction or a
curriculum initiative, that is also a
huge plus in getting approval.
Schwartz: I’d echo all of that
and add one more comment: The tools add
legitimacy as well as helping you think about
hidden costs, soft costs, and other things you
didn’t think of. That is becoming crucial.
Dan Honoré, Director of Information
Services (until July 2012), Kenosha (WI)
USD No. 1. Honoré, who spent nearly
13 years at Kenosha, has worked in
technology for more than 20 years.
Kenosha USD is the third-largest district
in Wisconsin, with 42 schools and
Alice Owen, Executive Director of
Technology, Irving (TX) ISD. Owen has
been in the district for nine of her
37 years in education. She oversees
one of the longest running 1:1 laptop
programs in the nation, providing laptops
to more than 12,000 teachers and
students. She was recently presented
with a Lifetime Achievement Award
for Technology in Education from the
Texas Computer Education Association.
Irving I SD serves more than 34,000
students and has 39 schools.
Kevin Schwartz, Director of Technology
Services at Eanes (TX) I SD. Schwartz
has been technology director at Eanes
ISD for five-and-a-half years. Before
that, he was network coordinator for the
district. He is responsible for all phases
of network and server infrastructure, IT
security, administrative systems, and
integrated systems. Eanes ISD serves
7,700 students at nine schools.
Nancy Toll, technology coordinator,
Hudson (WI) School District.
Steve Young, Chief Technology Officer
at Judson (TX) ISD. Young has been at
Judson ISD since 2006, and he oversees
network operations, server hardware,
desktop hardware, application
support, programming, help desk support,
telecommunications, and radio.
Young founded the San Antonio Area
Technology Directors group, which has
met quarterly since its inception in
2007. Judson ISD has 29 schools and
serves more than 22,000 students.
Lewis Wynn, Director of Technology
at Rockdale (TX) Independent School
District (ISD). Wynn has worked in
the computer and telecommunication
field for more than 20 years. He has
held senior positions at Texas A &M University, the Institute for Scientific
Computation, the Academy for Advanced
Telecommunications and Learning
Technology, and AC S Digital Networks.
Rockdale ISD is a rural district with four
schools serving 1,600 students.