If your school system can’t afford to develop its own high-quality technology team, maybe you should rent one—not from a high-priced technology consulting firm, but from a neighboring school system. That’s the remedy two school districts in Maine are applying to the chronic shortage of technology personnel facing systems with tight budgets.

Waterville Public Schools—with a strong, experienced technology team—has just entered into an agreement to provide nearby School Administrative District (SAD) 47 with a wide range of computer services and support, from technology planning and installation to troubleshooting and maintenance.

Under the agreement, SAD 47, also known as Messalonskee School District, will pay Waterville Public Schools $86,000 a year—or just over $7,000 a month—for its services. For Messalonskee, which has virtually no technology staff, the partnership with Waterville is an attractive and cost-effective alternative to building its own team.

James Morse, superintendent of SAD 47, told the Central Maine Morning Sentinel that it would cost the district $140,000 to form a technology team of its own. Its relationship with Waterville will provide the district with proven technology expertise at a much more affordable price, he added.

Waterville has helped its neighbor from time to time in the past, pitching in its expertise whenever Messalonskee needed a favor. As Messalonskee was considering whether to create its own computer support staff, Waterville Technology Director Steven Smith was thinking partnership.

“When they were ready to hire someone, we said, ‘Maybe you want to contract us to do everything for you,'” Smith recalled.

After some negotiations, the plan was approved unanimously by both school boards, and the contract went into effect July 1. It’s a three-year deal with an option for further tweaking after each year.

Now, the two districts won’t have to compete for the same—and relatively small—pool of qualified technicians in the central Maine area.

“It’s very difficult (to find technicians) with the way the market is and with schools unable to pay top dollar for them,” Smith said. But with their pooled resources, the districts will be able to offer more attractive salaries to prospective employees, while also helping to retain the current staff.

The Waterville Public Schools technology team had been a crew of five. But in another recent move, the department merged with the city’s three-person technology staff.

Still lead by Smith, the department now is responsible for supporting both school and Waterville municipal systems. And though not specified in the contract, Waterville’s tech team also will provide services and support to the three municipalities served by SAD 47, Smith said.

Waterville plans to hire two additional technicians, for a total staff of 10. The crew will be responsible for about 1,200 school and municipal computers.

Smith, whose team had previously supported about 950 computers in the Waterville schools alone, said he is not worried about the extra workload because of the soon-to-be expanded staff.

“We’re doing what we’ve been doing, but on a larger scale,” he said, adding that the city’s high-speed cable network makes it easier to maintain the various systems: “With the fast connection, our technicians don’t necessarily have to drive to the site to fix things.”

Though they aren’t connected to the network yet, Smith hopes the Messalonskee schools will be online within the next year. Still, all the buildings now being served by his department are within a 10-mile radius, so even if they do have visit a site, the technicians won’t have to travel very far.

Although the agreement with SAD 47 is still in its infancy, Smith already is setting his sights on more partnerships. If all goes well with SAD 47 this year, he said, he’d like next year to offer services to two other nearby districts with small technology staffs.

School Administrative District 47

http://www.mint.net/sad47

Waterville Public Schools

http://www.wtvl.k12.me.us