When purchasing school technology equipment, the question is no longer merely “Mac vs. PC,” but whether the hardware should be desktop units, laptops, tablets, iPads or a host of other transformed hardware in the computer world.
Yet, too often the plans for incorporating new technology into a school’s instructional and/or administrative program fail to include equipment, applications and professional development. Buying hardware is usually the easiest part of implementing a technology program, but once the hardware is purchased, how do we ensure that teachers have access to the right technology and the skills to use it? And, how can schools sustainably afford to implement these technology programs?
Tips for Efficiently Purchasing School Technology
When purchasing school technology equipment, the question is no longer merely “Mac vs. PC,” but whether the hardware should be desktop units, laptops, tablets, iPads or a host of other transformed hardware in the computer world. The key to a successful program is navigating tight economic conditions for the initial purchase and then maintaining your assets and infrastructure, refreshing them as the technology changes. There are several important things to consider when purchasing equipment and infrastructure:
- Buy enough equipment to meet your objectives. For example, let’s take something as specific as purchasing software to manage your special education program and Individualized Education Program (IEP) development, for example, TIENET program software, which is used around the country to help manage standards compliance in the areas of instruction, intervention and special education case management. If every teacher is expected to access the IEP, and special education teachers and clinicians are to enter all their data, findings and recommendations into a software program, they must have ease of access to computers and have adequate broadband for managing the level of traffic this will produce.
- Recently a district spent a significant amount of funding on its software program, yet had many schools where only a single computer was allocated for all of the teachers in that school. Without enough onsite equipment available, some teachers accessed the system from home and filed a grievance noting that they were required to use the program, but had inadequate resources to do so at school. As a result, the district paid far more for the extra time teachers spent working from home than they would have ever spent buying the right amount of equipment
- Consider buying refurbished equipment. Refurbished equipment often costs less but has a warranty similar to or exactly like one for original equipment. This offers the district more return on its investment, and often the district does not need state-of-the-art equipment for every grade or program they are addressing.
- Consider leasing the equipment. With technology leases, costs are spread out over several years so the district can provide an adequate number of computers when they implement their plan, and build in a “refresh” program into the purchase.
- Buy equipment that has limited memory and use the cloud for storage, giving each student adequate storage capacity for their work, research and artifacts without the expensive hardware. Many of these computers with more limited built-in memory are less than $200 each.
- Always purchase using the government pricing available from manufacturers or their representatives unless you can find something even less expensive. This may require buying from a firm that does not offer leasing or financing, but there are third party firms that either already have working relationships with equipment providers or will cooperate with the school and the vendor to finance this purchase, if that is your preference.
- Build in the cost of professional development (PD) when initially purchasing your equipment and infrastructure or updating what you already have. Ideally, this means securing the professional development prepaid at a discounted rate, but prepaying also guarantees that the development is not withdrawn later when budgets get tighter.
The Importance of Ongoing Professional Development
Despite the fact that 95 percent of those surveyed in the August 2015 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll on Public Education said that the most important way to improve schools is to improve the quality of teachers, professional development is often the first budget item to be cut or reduced. Some research states that 60 percent of teachers feel that their professional development is worthless and they don’t fight to sustain it. Too often, we have teachers with too little development, minimal or no classroom resources, few books, and limited technology — yet we expect better results. During the sequester days of 2013, 59 percent of the districts reduced their professional development budgets.
Based on my experience, fewer teachers who are continually learning — with the support of the districts — and with access to adequate resources and technology to support a high quality program are better than more teachers with little or no support. When I was a superintendent of schools, we implemented a technology initiative with a major influx of computers and software into our schools. The Board of Education was thrilled to be on the cutting edge of innovation, but when a budget crunch hit a year later, they immediately looked to cut the professional development that the educators thought were needed. Fortunately, we had included the professional development in the upfront cost of the technology package — purchased at the beginning of the initiative with full support — and therefore there were no financial gains to be made from cutting it, since it had already been paid. The professional development continued and the program was successful, but without it the technology would have languished in the classroom and it could have been another failed attempt at innovation.
Paying for Technology and Professional Development
There may never be enough money to do all the things school administrators want to do, but in preparing a school budget and seeking funds, there are a few “out of the box” ways to maximize resources by leveraging the community around you:
- Prepare a zero-based budget and require principals and instructional leaders from all levels of the district to justify their entire requested budget based on the district’s prioritized goals, expected learning outcomes, and a focus on the students — not just for his or her school, or his or her students — but also for the district at large. In my experience, this public discussion reduces “padding” and results in the best spending plans for the community.
- Determine the employers in your community, which employ the parents and guardians of your students and get them involved in community education. For example, in one district where I served as superintendent, we found that more than 20 percent of the students’ parents worked in one type of industry within several distinct companies. By meeting with the CEOs of these organizations, sharing our plans and needs with them, and enjoining them to become a greater part of the fabric of our community, we were able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind contributions. Then, we publicized their partnership and generosity everywhere we could, had them become part of our program, and kept them well-informed and engaged with kids, establishing mutually beneficial relationships between the community leaders and the school.
- Hire a grant writer or ask a staff member who wants to make some extra money to write grants on a contingency basis so there are no out-of-pocket costs for the effort. If the grant is won, the eight to 10 percent contingency fee is well worth it for both the district and the author.
- Ask community clubs such as Rotary, Lions, Elks, Optimists, Knights of Columbus, Masons, VFW, FOP, Chamber of Commerce, and others to adopt a teacher, classroom, school or program. Determine the cost of the programs or professional development you want to fund and then provide them with your menu so that they can match it to their own budget. Show your appreciation over and over again and get them into the schools to meet the people in the programs they funded.
- Contact non-profit organizations and foundations and tell them your story from a human perspective. Make your story compelling and encourage them to get involved with your schools.
- Engage local colleges and professional organizations for volunteers. College students can be very helpful in return for internship opportunities and colleges may be able to partner with you on grant submissions to create more comprehensive proposals.
In her District Administration article “Sustainable Professional Development,” Susan McLester includes substantial information about the creation of learning communities and on-demand coaches that are available commercially to meet the needs of a district, especially a small one that may not have the level of expertise or the availability of personnel to provide the necessary coaching and support to help its teachers create and sustain the new skills, practices, programs and methodologies they want to implement.
There is no viable reason for leveraging technology and training to prepare our teachers, administrators, aides, support personnel and staff for the jobs they are asked to perform. With 80 percent of school budgets going to personnel costs, why would we not spend the right amount of time and money on making that expense provide the best education and services possible?