Tech Planning | Feature

Building Agility into the Tech Budget

A New York school district's superintendent is looking to stay on the leading edge of technology and is taking a novel approach to do so.

When Michael P. Nagler  came onboard as Mineola Union Free School District's superintendent of schools six years ago, he took one look around and knew the district was in need of a major IT overhaul.

"Every single piece of equipment was outdated, and there was no replacement plan in place," Nagler said. "We were in a pretty bad situation, technology-wise."

So he came up with a novel approach that would get him the budget he needed for the technology the school wanted while leaving some flexibility to make more agile technology decisions.

The "Multi-Year Purposing Plan'
Realizing the value of technology in today's educational environment, Nagler first came up with a five-year replacement plan that included a funding mechanism for the Mineola, NY-based district, which includes six schools that currently serve 2,700 students. Rather than asking the board to budget for specific technology purchases, Nagler said, he came up with a multi-year purposing plan.

"It's kind of a like a mortgage," said Nagler, who turned to New York State's Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), an organization that works with 37 school districts across the state to develop shared programs focused on collaboration and cost containment. "I do our technology purchasing through the BOCES, which allows us to buy all of our equipment in year one, and pay for it over five years."

Nagler said the district shelled out a little extra money to take out five-year warranties on the equipment, ensuring that its investment would be protected for the entire time it was in use.

Working with a clean slate six years ago, Nagler said, his theory was that over the coming five years, the district's technology equipment would be replaced. Also during that period, its IT budget would be replenished and ready to fund a new round of purchases this year.

"Right now we're in year six, so we're revisiting all of the purchases we made in year 1 and upgrading that equipment," said Nagler, who added he sees his "mortgage-like" approach to technology funding as viable for K-12 districts, particularly those that are struggling under current budgetary constraints.

"I don't understand why more districts don't use BOCES multi-year purposing," said Nagler. "It basically gives us a built-in budget line to replenish our technology equipment." And because BOCES qualifies as a non-contingent expense, Nagler said, the technology is certain to be replaced and upgraded over the coming five-year period.

"Once you commit, you can't say that you won't want to pay for it," said Nagler. "For me, technology is always in the budget, even during the most difficult (economic) times."

Results: Technology Upgrades
This fall, students, teachers and faculty members at Mineola Union Free School District will begin using a wide range of new equipment. According to Nagler, the latest additions will include 35 printers, 100 desktops, and 21 projectors. The printers will be replaced with networked options, while iPads and netbooks will be the successors to desktops.

The district also plans to develop a new Web site that enables social media and resources with a local focus and allows students to submit homework assignments and parents to monitor their children's progress. The site will require authentication, allowing the district to enable the social media function "in a secure environment," said Nagler. "It will include some other neat features, including a storage locker that students will be able to use to push information out into the cloud."

Planning for a Mobile Future
Mineola Union Free School District, which last year was one of the first in Long Island to distribute iPads to students, is also buying 250 netbooks, 90 more iPads (30 using grant money), 20 network printers, two servers, and 10 wireless access points (WAPS), the latter of which became critical when the district ramped up its mobile computing program.

"We already have 80 iPads in use in the classroom with no real problems, but 400 devices are going to be interesting," said Nagler. "To accommodate our 1:1 devices, we knew that we needed to look at that infrastructure piece, and upgrade our network."

According to Nagler, the total first-year cost for the IT overhaul will be about $47,000, which covers the first payment for equipment that will cost about $250,000. Working on a five-year timeline in the IT realm isn't always easy for Nagler, who right now is assessing whether to replace 100 aging desktops, or hand out netbooks to every student.

"With the availability and price point of 1:1 devices, do we even still need desktops? That's a question I'm grappling with," said Nagler, who, despite his tech-savvy and creative financing methods, is frequently challenged by the rapid advances in technology.

"It's hard to plan for the future when technology changes so quickly, and difficult to develop a vision that doesn't have to be changed at some point," said Nagler. "Long-term planning across multiple campuses is especially challenging, and something we continue to struggle with."

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