DAILY INSIGHT: Staffing for the back-to-school tidal wave

By Steve Young, CIO Advisor

Very few if any school technology departments are staffed to the levels seen in most companies of similar size. By most measures, school technician staffing is at levels unheard of in the private sector. Numbers like one technician per 500 or 1,000 computers are rampant in K-12 institutions. Other measures that look at how many FTEs (full-time equivalents) the average technician supports are equally skewed; one technician often serves many hundreds of employees. And these numbers don’t even take into account the huge students populations and enormous device count supported in districts.

These numbers point to vastly overworked technical staffs at most K-12 institutions. I would argue that many of these departments are slim staffed during the best of times, such as November and December, when typical K-12 workloads are about as light as they ever get during the crazy cyclical K-12 calendar.

When August hits, most school technical staffs are stretched beyond belief. In what other industry do IT staffs face thousands of returning users in a just a couple of weeks? Staffs have to cope with many routine items, such as disconnected equipment, accounts, forgotten credentials and the like. These are often compounded by rollouts of new technology and systems over the summer, much of which is guaranteed to result in more help desk calls and/or technician visits.

There are many strategies that can be implemented to at least help with some of the back-to-school crush, and many of us keep asking for more support staff to cope with the workload, but this often does not meld well with economic realities. So after losing technical staff to budget cuts, while servicing an ever-expanding student and device population, this year we decided to try a different strategy, often used in the business world, during cyclical peak periods.

This year we budgeted for and are hiring multiple temporary technicians to service back-to-school work orders and to assist with the always ringing help desk phones. And to further save funds to allow more technicians to be hired, my staff went the extra mile to hire their own temps, rather than rely on an outside agency. This strategy allows us to increase our technicians by at least 60% for up to three months, at about 55% of the cost of one FTE. While we have yet to see how this will work out, we think this strategy will be much more economically palatable, while allowing us to offer up much quicker turnaround time to our customers.

We know there are dangers. Our biggest fear is that these techs will lack the institutional knowledge of common issues and normal procedures. We are hopeful that we can hire ones with good personalities that will keep our very high standards of customer service, but we will have to watch this very carefully for sure.

Steve Young is CTO of Judson ISD in Texas and founder of the San Antonio Area Technology Directors group. He blogs at CTO Technotes, where this is cross posted. Follow him on Twitter as @atemyshorts.