One thousand school districts have registered to use a free, web-based tool that helps school leaders cut costs and adequately budget for their technology needs, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) announced April 16.

The tool, developed by CoSN in consultation with Gartner Inc., is a fully adjustable, web-based template that calculates the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a school district’s technology systems.

“With the help of the U.S. Department of Education [ED] and other industry leaders, we were able to build an online tool for calculating total cost of ownership,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive. “This week, we hit 1,000 users.”

Although CoSN has surpassed its goal of reaching 300 districts in the tool’s first year of operation, Krueger said, the group still has a long way to go, because there are nearly 16,000 school districts nationwide.

To demonstrate to school districts the immediate benefits of using the TCO tool, CoSN released four new case studies in which prominent school districts used the tool to assess their emerging technology costs–including online learning, wireless technology, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services.

The school districts highlighted in the 2004 TCO Case Studies are Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools; Round Rock (Texas) Independent School District; Kenosha (Wis.) Unified School District No. 1; and Wellington-Napoleon (Mo.) R-9 School District. Now, eight case studies in total are available for downloading from CoSN’s Taking TCO to the Classroom web site.

“It’s hard to figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you are,” said Richard Kaestner, K-12 TCO consultant for CoSN.

With the TCO tool, school leaders will learn what their technology expenditures are today, and they can project what future initiatives might cost before embarking upon them. In addition, the TCO tool automatically compares a district’s results with the case study school districts, Kaestner said.

Though the TCO tool provides invaluable information results, school officials say the most difficult part is collecting and entering approximately 100 data points. “We still hear from schools that it is hard to have those 100 data points,” Krueger said.

Ed Zaiontz, executive director of information services for the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas, estimates that his district spent 80 to 100 hours collecting the data, but he said the payoff was worth it.

“The study identified two issues right away,” Zaiontz said. First, the district could reduce costs by consolidating the number of servers it had by replacing them with higher-capacity ones. Second, the district could cut printing costs by swapping classroom inkjet printers with networked laser printers located in central areas throughout its school buildings.

“When you take a look at the cost associated with those printers, it’s a pretty hefty cost,” Zaiontz said.

Similarly, an analysis of the Wellington-Napoleon School District’s technology expenditures raised concerns about the high costs that resulted from donated computers and revealed the need to develop a plan for how to regularly replace hardware.

“Schools are further behind other organizations in using total cost of ownership,” said Susan Patrick, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology. Patrick, who described the TCO tool as important, added that ED invested in the tool to make sure it would be available for all schools.

As a companion to the TCO tool and case studies, CoSN also unveiled a three-part TCO training program that will guide school leaders, via teleconferences and a webcast, through the process of entering data and then interpreting the results. The program costs $249 for CoSN members and $299 for non-members, and the first session is May 4.

Birdville Independent School District, based in Haltom City, Texas, was the 1,000th school district to register for CoSN’s TCO tool and will receive free TCO training, free admission to CoSN’s annual conference, and a CoSN Compendium of ed-tech briefings.

Links:

CoSN’s Taking TCO to the Classroom web site
http://classroomtco.cosn.org

2004 TCO Case Studies
http://classroomtco.cosn.org/gartner_intro.html