Even in tight financial times, initial costs for new technologies are impossible to ignore. However, ongoing technical support is often under-funded in district budgets. Although the dot-com bust has made it a little easier for districts to hang on to qualified personnel, most districts still fall far short of the Consortium for School Networking's recommended ratio of one technician for every 50-70 computers, or one technician for every 500 computers in a closely managed networked environment.
Add to this the fact that teachers' needs for pedagogical support are as important for successful technology implementation as a reliable infrastructure, and many districts find that overall technical support costs are much higher than budgeted.
So what is a district to do? More attention must be focused on reallocating existing funds and reducing the dependence on grants and other types of short-term funding. Here are several approaches taken by districts across the nation:
- Technical support surcharges. Whenever a site or office makes a technology purchase, the district adds a surcharge to cover ongoing costs for infrastructure and instructional technical support.
- Annual technical support fees. Instead of a surcharge at purchase, sites and offices are assessed a fee per computer each year. Fees are used to pay salaries for infrastruc- ture and instructional technical support staff.
- Site-based technical support. The district takes care of the network, but schools are responsible for hiring and paying for their on-site, day-to-day support. This often takes the form of stipends for existing employees.
- Interns provide technical assistance. Districts form partnerships with community colleges and technical schools to provide student internship opportunities. Interns, working under the supervision of paid district staff, handle trouble-shooting, maintenance, and repairs, freeing district staff to offer more instructional technical support.
- Student-provided technical support. Programs such as Generation YES (http://genyes.com), Students Working to Advance Technology (www.swatweb.net), the Cisco Networking Academy (www.cisco.com/en/US/learning/netacad/index.html), and California's TECH CORPS(www.techcorpsca.org) train middle and high school students to provide technical support at their schools. Advocates see this as a win-win proposal. Students gain marketable skills, and district staff can provide more instructional technical support.