A Florida school district has announced plans to outsource its entire information technology (IT) department to a third-party communications firm–a move district officials say could save the school system more than $1 million a year for the next 10 years.

The Okaloosa County School District will pay Titan Corp.–a company that provides communications systems and solutions to such federal agencies as the U.S. Department of Defense–between $25 million and $35 million over the next five years in exchange for a full range of technology services. The contract includes a renewal clause that could extend the deal to the 2013-14 school year, officials said.

The 30,000-student district is the latest school system to outsource its entire technology department–a trend that already has caught on in Detroit and Cobb County, Ga., in metropolitan Atlanta, where school leaders have been able to increase efficiencies while still maintaining their commitment to technology in schools.

Titan will furnish Okaloosa County’s 43 facilities with desktop and laptop computers, network servers, and support services, including help-desk support, remote desktop management, asset management, and network management. The company also will provide technology retrofits, web site development and maintenance, and commercial software applications.

District Chief Information Officer J.C. Connor said the contract would ensure that every student and faculty member throughout the district enjoys the same access to technology, no matter what building they’re in. He also believes the agreement will free up busy educators, who often spend too much time worrying about technology, to do what they do best: teach students.

Besides freeing up more time for classroom instruction, officials say the deal will save money and help them keep better track of technology spending. It also will eliminate the need for full-time technology staff and bring the responsibilities for planning and resource allocation together under one roof, they say.

In deciding to outsource, Connor said, the district gave considerable thought to the fate of current technology staff members and determined it could make the transition with “little impact.”

Of the 32 positions that were eliminated, Connor said about half these employees had served in instructional positions before and would be allowed to return to their original posts. Some staff members were offered new positions responsible for training teachers how to integrate technology into the classroom more effectively. Others, he said, were offered jobs with Titan. Six employees who declined the offer were granted assistance in finding new jobs elsewhere.

Under its agreement with Titan, every school in the district is slated to operate on a 5 to 1 student-to-computer ratio. The contract also adheres to a strict refresh cycle, ensuring that none of the 13,000 desktop computers and more than 500 laptops used by faculty and students is more than five years old.

Before the outsourcing deal, Connor said, the district had shortchanged itself in trying to make do with machines that had outlived their usefulness. “We were spending a lot of our resources on obsolete machines,” he said. “And obsolete machines cost more than new machines to maintain.”

Okaloosa isn’t the only district to outsource its entire IT service. In 2001, the Detroit Public Schools became the first high-profile school system in the nation to experiment with full-service IT outsourcing when it entered into a $75 million deal with local technology services provider Compuware Corp.

The movement to outsource is experiencing similar traction in Cobb County, Ga., where Titan recently struck another full-scale outsourcing deal to provide hardware, support, and services to students and faculty in the nation’s 25th largest school system.

Despite enthusiasm in places like Detroit and Cobb County, outsourcing isn’t the right approach for all districts. Experts recommend that you evaluate whether to outsource your technology systems and support on a case-by-case basis, looking at factors such as the cost of providing the service, how critical it is to your day-to-day operations, and how comfortable you are with having an outside company do the job.

See these related links:

Titan Corp.
http://www.titan.com

Okaloosa County School District
http://www.okaloosaschools.com

eSN Special Report: Outsourcing IT
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/outsourcing