Where are you finding the funds to build and sustain your programs? What new ways have you found to cut costs with help from technology? How are you getting the word out about the things that are working in your schools and the importance of technology in your efforts? These were the questions that formed the foundation of the discussion in the “Budgeting and Community Support” work group at the SchoolCIO Leadership Summit. Below are highlights from these conversations.
Get Support from the Local Community
The majority of the attending districts in this group receive their funds from local money, with a smaller percentage funded by grants, e-rate, and Title I funds. This drove the conversation toward the importance of building community support and improving “messaging” about the great things schools are doing that deserve local support through bond and tax initiatives. Here are some highlights:
* Only twenty-eight percent of households have kids in the system, which makes it more difficult to get buy-in. We take the time to craft quality press releases and find that the local papers are willing partners who will publish most of what we send them. Sharing the feel-good stories with the community goes a long way toward building financial support for our technology initiatives.
— Andrew Wallace, director of technology, South Portland Maine Schools
* We just passed the biggest bond ever—without a superintendent. Our district did presentations throughout the community to various parent groups, municipality board meetings, community-based groups, etc. that provided information to voters and answered their questions about the bond program recommended by our bond advisory committee.
—Sean Casey, assistant superintendent, technology, Lake Travis ISD Austin, TX
Spread the Word
Naturally we communicate via our webpage. We also leverage parent email from our SIS and have replaced most paper newsletters with this medium. Our SIS portal is heavily used and the need for paper report cards is diminishing each ranking period. Annually, we publish a centerfold insert in a local paper highlighting each department and school. Typically, we focus less on technology as a cost center or department and more on how technology is embedded in all we do.
We have implemented several major initiatives focused on communication, including implementation of a mass communication system that integrates phones, email, SMS, and social media support. We also recently developed a full-featured mobile app called Judson ISD Connect!, which allows parents, students, and the community to have upto- date information about our schools.
— Steve Young, chief technology officer, Judson ISD, San Antonio, TX
‘‘Remember to meet parents where they are—through social media, text, and emails. Be careful to avoid message fatigue.
—Liz Fadil, Vice President of Sales, School Messenger
We implemented the AESOP program, which is a substitute coverage calling system. This has allowed us to save some funds. We also implemented a new Web-based SIS called Skedula. The system has an infant LMS that can grow further, but the new system has allowed teachers access for the first time from outside the school.
—Salvador Contes, Jr., director of technology, Poughkeepsie City School District, Poughkeepsie, NY
Q How has technology helped cut costs?
The following are areas in which automation technologies are allowing our districts to realize savings: automation in the areas of identity management, print and copy center operations, programmable systems for energy management, and virtualization. An overall strategy that we have employed also is to move away from proprietary systems as much as possible to embrace those which are more integrated (e.g., moving to VOIP and supporting it in-house as another network service), universal (e.g., creating a learning portal of all of our online textbooks and other electronic resources from our textbook adoptions and subscriptions), and flexible (e.g., encouraging BYOD by allowing any staff member or student to use their personal device).
We are providing far more services and supporting more technology than we did five years ago on the same budget. We have implemented a lot of the standard best practices: virtualized most servers, cut phone lines, virtualized many desktops, implemented auto shutdown for computers, and managed contracts. We have also tried some different approaches, such as buying long-warranty used computers, automating identity management, and implementing a large electronic forms project.
Questions for our readers
• How have you “prioritized” the funding of technology?
• What has your district done to leverage other funding sources such as Title I and special education?
• How do you answer the question, “How is all this technology improving test scores?”
• How do you fund professional development?
• How do you use technology to deliver education in creative ways outside the school building?
• How do you fund technology staffing?
Evaluate the Alternatives
The budget work group also talked about considering breaking away from traditional funding streams and exploring alternate sources of revenue, such as corporate partnerships. Here are some highlights:
Local initiatives should not be the only revenue stream. This is an outdated model. Any funding streams we have should be more flexible. Some of our communities are locked out. We only won the last override by a slim margin. We work with companies in the area who want information about education. People don’t always get the connection between investing in education and economic prosperity and the evidence shows that individuals often locate to specific areas because of schools.
— David Schauer, superintendent, Kyrene School District, Tempe, AZ
I think we need to look creatively to grant resources, funding partnerships, more cooperation between districts and other agencies. We need to remember IT resources are part of the core of our mission and can’t be looked at as an area to reduce any more than classroom teachers.
— Steve Baule, superintendent, North Boone CUSD 200, Poplar Grove, IL
We have gotten very creative with how we budget for things. Many things we used to spend money on (i.e., textbooks) we no longer do. We use all available funds to help with technology and our digital conversion.
—Scott Smith, Chief Technology Officer, Mooresville Graded School District, Mooresville, NC