Educators soon will have a new tool at their disposal to help them adequately budget for their technology needs: a fully adjustable, web-based template that calculates the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a school’s technology systems.

The template is being developed by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) in consultation with market research firm Gartner Inc. CoSN unveiled the initiative, which will allow educators to plug numbers into a host of cost structures so they can better predict the size and scope of their technology budgets, at the National Educational Computing Conference June 18.

According to CoSN, the new program will provide a valuable tool to quantify actual costs and help administrators eliminate excess overhead. Through its partnership with Gartner consultants, CoSN plans to tailor these kinds of budgetary services—once reserved for the business world—to the specific needs of schools.

“CoSN is bringing the reality check of where schools are, and Gartner brings its expertise from the business world,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s executive director.

To ensure that the program is developed specifically with schools in mind, Gartner also has appointed a consultant from Maryland’s Baltimore County Public Schools to work with CoSN officials.

According to Krueger, the program will offer a variety of online applications that educators will find useful. Users will be able to access case studies, read the proven benefits of budgeting according to TCO, become acquainted with unfamiliar terminology, and engage the adjustable template to explore any number of spending options, from hardware costs to the cost of professional development.

Krueger said he was especially optimistic about the program’s online template—its budget calculator function.

“The program [is] a fully web-based tool that will let educators enter numbers for their own district,” he said. “The template really gives you the ability to see line by line the cost scenarios that schools are [facing] today. … It’s possible that [schools] could be under-funding certain programs.”

The program builds on an existing initiative by CoSN, called “Taking TCO to the Classroom,” that aims to introduce educators to the concept of TCO. According to CoSN, its new TCO calculator will include costs for professional development, maintenance, operations and administration, hardware, software, replacements, upgrades, and retrofitting.

Educators who spoke with eSchool News said the ability to calculate TCO more accurately in terms of a school’s needs piques their curiosity.

“Having accurate information on these costs would allow us to better educate all of our constituencies on the actual costs involved, and why we set purchasing policies they often don’t agree with,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in California.

Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester, N.H., Public Schools, said his district already has experience using TCO to budget for technology. A key benefit of the analysis is that hard numbers are tough to dispute come time for the budget ax, Yeagley said.

“Without having done the initial TCO analysis and without being able to show that our numbers were relatively accurate, I suspect that we would have been less successful in garnering support to maintain the level of funding needed to support our technology efforts,” he said.

But Yeagley cautioned that an accurate technology budget can lead to unforeseen problems.

“I believe that, in some cases, having accurate TCO analysis would serve to slow the growth of technology in a district,” he said.

According to Yeagley, some taxpayers will be overwhelmed by the large figures a TCO report will produce. People who believe TCO is represented only by the cost of hardware and software purchases might be reluctant to commit to higher figures, even if future savings can be proven through operational efficiencies, he said.

“Many of the people I have dealt with are very skeptical of forecasts based on how a technology might affect operation. They can see the sticker price and know that it is firm, while personnel costs and savings are soft numbers and will be assumed by the most suspicious constituents to be artificially lowered by the administration,” he said.

CoSN said it plans to offer the program, including the budget template, to schools as a free service.

The organization said its efforts are being considered for support by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as a way to encourage school districts to manage technology more effectively. ED officials were unavailable for comment at press time.

Links:

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

“Taking TCO to the Classroom”
http://www.classroomtco.org

Gartner Inc.
http://www4.gartner.com

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

Rochester Public Schools
http://www.rochesterschools.com

Marysville Joint Unified School District
http://www.yubacoe.k12.ca.us/districts/marysville_district.htm