Q: We recently completed a grant proposal that required verification of how administrative staff has supported local technology initiatives. I've not seen this requirement before, and we scrambled a bit to find specific documentation. Is this a common request?
A: The importance of administrative support in successful technology programs is well established in several studies. As a result, increasing numbers of technology-related requests for proposals ask for specifics about how administrators will support the proposed project and how they have backed previous initiatives. One effective method for documenting this is through your own annual professional growth plan. If your district does not require a specific technology goal for administrators, incorporate your support of appropriate use of technology within existing goal areas. Next time you need this information, it will be easy to access and report!
Q: With increasing competition for dwindling funds, we're finding that our fundraisers for technology are bringing in less money. This is especially true when our feeder elementary and middle schools are running fundraisers at the same time. Do you have any suggestions?
A: In a perfect world, technology budgets would not rely on fundraisers or grants just to pay for basic needs. In reality, schools' choices about how to spend funds are often limited; however, your community can handle just so many Jog-A-Thons or gift wrap sales before wallets are tapped out.
Since it appears that one issue for your school is the fact that younger siblings are participating in competing fundraisers, you might explore the possibility of a partnership with your feeder schools. Would it be possible to conduct one or two large fundraisers where profits were shared among participating schools? If not, perhaps you could at least coordinate calendars to avoid direct competition and to vary the type of fundraiser or the products being sold. Either solution requires some time and planning, but you should see a pay-off in the form of more profitable fundraisers all around.
Q: Our district has decided to contract with a grant writer. What are some of the qualities we should seek in candidates?
A: Experience and a good track record for writing winning proposals are obvious needs, but you'll want to look at the underlying skills that make grant writers successful over a period of time. Almost anyone who can follow an outline, do some basic research, and write well is able to generate a successful proposal, but you don't want someone who regularly approaches grant writing as an 11th hour exercise in beating deadlines.
Organization, attention to detail, the ability to manage complicated proposals, and good people skills are all critical attributes of a grant writer who has staying power. You will also want to make certain that the person you select has the time to devote his/her full attention to your project. Finally, some grant writers will offer to write on a contingency basis, where they are not actually paid for writing the grant, but then recoup these fees by writing themselves in as the project evaluator. Think carefully before accepting such a proposal. While it may appear to be a good deal initially, the fees written into the grant may be higher than the cost would have been to pay separately for the proposal writing and evaluation. Also, in these cases you don't have the option of changing evaluators if a problem occurs down the road, because you've traded upfront costs for an agreement that runs the life of the project.
Q: I want to start budgeting for total cost of ownership expenses, but I'm not sure where to begin. Can you recommend a resource that would help me project some actual figures?
A: Experts say that whether you plan for it or not, a well supported technology program requires annual expenditures of 30 to 50 percent of the original investment to keep things up and running. The Consortium for School Networking offers schools and districts a free, online tool they can use to determine their total cost of ownership for technology, available at classroomtco.cosn.org.
Q: I know that other districts are experiencing the same kinds of budget cuts faced by my district. However, I hear that many are continuing to provide technical support and upgrades, which we are thinking of reducing. How are they managing to do this?
A: Declining technology funds do impact support and expansion of instructional technology initiatives in education. However, results of a survey conducted by the Consortium for School Networking and Grunwald Associates showed that there's more to the story than just available dollars.
According to the survey report, Digital Leadership Divide: Without Visionary Leadership, Disparities in School Technology Budgets Increase (www.cosn.org/resources/grunwald), those schools and districts whose leaders have a vision for technology use plus strong support from the community and parents are more likely to sustain or even expand technology initiatives-more so than schools and districts that lack this visionary leadership and support. Yes, funding remains an issue; however, these leaders tackle the problem by finding ways to raise additional funds or to re-purpose existing dollars.
Q: Our technology coordinator has an opportunity to bring a large grant to my site, but the proposal is really her personal project and she doesn't have the staff's support. Should I encourage her to proceed and hope for the best?
A: It's difficult to turn down a funding opportunity, particularly in bad financial times. However, a large one-person project will probably be sustained only as long as that one person is involved.
As the school's leader, you need to take a step back and look at the big picture. Is this a project that can truly benefit students if it has such limited support? What would happen if the coordinator left your site before the funding period ended? Why isn't the staff supportive?
Before encouraging her to proceed, you need to hammer out the answers to these questions and others that will probably arise in your conversations with her. If she cannot develop a support base for the project, it may be best to walk away from this grant and find another opportunity that is a better match for your school.
Susan Brooks-Young, author of 101 Best Web Sites for Principals, is an educational consultant and writer. Her weekly Leader's Edge tips are available at www.techlearning.com/edge.