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Amid economic uncertainty, ed-tech leaders do more with less


 

Educational technology leaders are doing more with less as education budgets face further uncertainty.

 

Though education budgets might be frozen or face further reductions in school districts from coast to coast, some educational technology leaders have found innovative ways to update their schools’ technology and expand important ed-tech initiatives.

In San Antonio’s Judson Independent School District, Chief Technology Officer Steve Young has saved the district valuable dollars by examining current ed-tech practices and moving toward more “green” computing.

With 22,000 students and 3,000 employees, Judson ISD is facing the likelihood of a 5- or 10-percent cut in state funding next year.

“We know we need to cut more than we have in the past and do things differently,” Young said during a Jan. 18 webinar sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). That includes going green by reducing electricity consumption and reducing heat creation to lower building HVAC costs. San Antonio’s local energy provider estimates a 50-percent increase in electricity bills over the next 10 years, Young added.

For more advice on doing more with less, see:

Duncan: Ed tech can help cut costs

ASBO conference helps schools save money

Seven proven ways to save on school budgets

Surviving the school budget crisis

Judson ISD started its money-saving initiatives by examining its ed-tech use, and district leaders ultimately decided to develop a green computing initiative in order to run more efficiently.

Young and his IT team opted to run virtual servers with VMWare to reduce the number of physical servers in the district, along with power consumption, cooling, and data center requirements. The district also purchased Energy Star and EPEAT certified computers.

Eliminating all inkjet printers and moving to shared laser printers and networked copiers helped Judson ISD cut down on the physical amount of technology it used. Whereas each teacher previously had a printer in his or her classroom, Young said, small groups of teachers now share a central printer.

Young also automated computer shutdown for nearly all district computers.

“Ultimately, people leave computers on all of the time, and if you can get those turned off, you’ll be saving money,” he said.

Pushing student data to parents through the web, and using electronic forms instead of paper forms for business processes, has saved the district money as well.

For more advice on doing more with less, see:

Duncan: Ed tech can help cut costs

ASBO conference helps schools save money

Seven proven ways to save on school budgets

Surviving the school budget crisis

Judson ISD’s Green Computing Initiative is certified by CoSN’s Green Computing Leadership Initiative. The district’s desktop virtualization was funded with a 2006 bond issue.

“We knew at the elementary level that we needed to get more computers in the classroom and needed to increase computer access, but cost was a factor,” Young said. The district purchased 761 of NComputing’s X300 and X350 desktop virtualization kits, which added 2,283 additional computer seats.

Estimates show that a PC-only deployment would have cost the district $2.3 million, with a possible $775,220 in additional network equipment and growth. The X-series deployment, which virtualized district desktops, saved the district 50 percent and cost $1.1 million.

“Go green where you can to help trim your operating costs,” Young advised. “To go green in some ways takes a lot of capital outlay, so this may not be the time to take on some of those projects, but take a look and see what might work for your district.”

It’s also important to let others know about successful initiatives and projects, he said.

“Sell your initiatives and successes—share them,” Young said. “Others need to learn from what you’re doing.”

Mable Moore, chief technology officer for Jefferson Parish Schools in Harvey, La., said her district’s focus has been on rethinking education for the 21st century.

“We imagined a new digital school district, where technology and curriculum could draw our students into places they had not been before,” she said. “We knew we needed a state-of-the-art network to get there.”

For more advice on doing more with less, see:

Duncan: Ed tech can help cut costs

ASBO conference helps schools save money

Seven proven ways to save on school budgets

Surviving the school budget crisis

Jefferson Parish was among the hardest-hit areas when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005. It also was one of the first to reopen five weeks after the storm, welcoming roughly 28,000 of its approximately 50,000 students.

Over the last two years, the district’s budget has consistently shrunk in the face of less revenue and severe economic challenges. A spring 2010 reduction in force helped to balance a $30 million deficit across the board, but Moore said financial challenges remain, owing to fewer federal and state grants to assist with sustainability and maintainability of educational technology, professional development, and academic programs.

“In spite of a number of revenue reductions, we’ve continued to be able to offer professional development in our district on a much smaller scale,” she said. Jefferson Parish has looked to online learning for both professional development and virtual schooling.

Through a combination of grants, Title I funding, state and local resources, and e-Rate funds, the district created an implementation schedule, updated its telecommunications services, and completed a $50 million network upgrade with wired and wireless access and voice over IP service. This upgrade was completed in phases from 2006-09.

A $20 million investment in classroom equipment included 2,017 Promethean ActivBoards in classrooms, as well as teacher laptops. Moore said Jefferson Parish has 56 technology staff members for the entire district, which consists of 3,011 classrooms, 24,000 desktop computers, 15,000 laptops, and roughly 3.3 eMail messages sent each month.

“Our greatest challenge at this particular point is providing more working equipment in the classroom,” Moore said. This spring, the district plans to upgrade or replace about 500 computer labs.

Moore said a partnership between a district’s instructional and technology departments is key, as is supporting teachers with more on-site technology staff and automated help-desk support.

“For the future, we have inadequate funding to sustain and maintain technology. … Schools have lots of legacy equipment that needs to be updated and placed on a rotation schedule,” she said. The loss of funding includes the proposed elimination of the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) grant program in the Obama administration’s 2011 federal budget proposal. Funds from EETT instead would be redirected into new programs that would maintain a heavy focus on how technology can improve learning, according to federal education officials.

Jefferson Parish is examining how it can best support and fund professional development for its current technologies, as well as summer in-service sessions for its teachers.

School technology leaders should “look at the budget crisis as an opportunity to really clean … house and try to drive some efficiency through the whole organization,” said Rich Kaestner, project director for CoSN’s Total Cost of Ownership, Value of Investment, and Green Computing initiatives.

For more advice on doing more with less, see:

Duncan: Ed tech can help cut costs

ASBO conference helps schools save money

Seven proven ways to save on school budgets

Surviving the school budget crisis

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