Technology Budgeting 101 for School Districts
It is that time of the year when school districts are finalizing budgets and forecasting spending for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Unlike outside industry, schools have to plan for upcoming school years with many factors still up in the air, such as new administrations, budget impasses, new guidelines, and new legislature and policy changes. Schools are faced with not only providing students with an education such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also skills that will translate to the outside working world. Part of this demand entails preparing students to learn and use technology. Budgeting for technology can be very difficult and a bit complicated, and can require careful planning so that you do not end up with outdated technologies and no funds to replace them. Below are some tips to consider when developing your technology budget.
- Have Input. While this sounds basic, not all technology directors have the ability to develop their own technology budget. There are many schools where the business managers or the administration develop the budget and pass it down to the technology department. If that is the case, make sure to get a seat at the table and communicate what your technology needs are; have costs in-hand and evidence to back up your needs, whenever possible.
- Life Cycle Management. Know the life cycle of your tech equipment (student and teacher devices, networking equipment, bandwidth, etc.) and when it will come up for replacement. When budgeting, be sure to take that into consideration. For example, if the average life-span of your teacher computers is four years, work with your business office to develop a refresh program where the cost is split (amortized) between the four years, and when it is time for replacement the funds are there to purchase new computers.
- Big Ticket Items. Do not forget about big ticket items. While laptops and student devices are important, maintaining a robust network operating center is imperative. Most schools, because of tight budgets, forget to account for instances such as generator failures, cooling and fire suppression systems for your server rooms, and other similar big ticket items. When these items fail, you are then required to use funds previously allocated for something else to cover the cost. The more you prepare for these instances, the better.
- Consider Outsourcing. One idea to consider is to outsource your systems operation to the cloud. While there is a cost associated with this, you can find immense savings by not having to maintain servers, cooling, and the cost of replacing big ticket items. Another advantage is that it makes it easier for planning purposes. You can negotiate multi-year agreements that can lock in your price for years. It also allows for your staff to concentrate on what matters most, providing technology to students for learning, instead of being consumed by the day-to-day operations of keeping everything running.
- E-Rate. E-Rate has been a great supplemental technology resource for districts and schools. Stay in tune with any new reporting requirement to make sure you get your applications in on time and get the most out of your rebate reimbursement. Schools can get enough of a rebate to allow them to put it to good use.
- Stay Connected to Technology Trends. It is vital that leaders stay on top of technology trends and know where technology is headed. You do not want to invest in soon-to-be outdated technologies and then have to invest in replacements.
- Beta Testers. While being on the cutting edge of technology is tempting, it can also be very costly. Be sensible and avoid the attractive new tech tools that have no proven value. Let other organizations be the beta testers, and after tools have been vetted then make the decision to find the tool that is the best fit for your district. You will save funds and have evidence to back up your purchase request.
In conclusion, the best practice to budget for technology is to develop a comprehensive plan that takes into account current, future, and incidental costs, as well as life cycle management. Make the most of your funds by leveraging them wisely. Have an open mind about outsourcing, wherever it makes sense. The key is to ensure everyone has the basics they need to be successful, while planning and deploying further technology to the people and in the places where that technology will be the most useful.
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