It seems that our public schools are in a state of perpetual financial crisis. Many communities supplement their school operating budgets with additional funds from parents and community fundraisers. In addition to bake sales and calls for donations to raise money, they also have to cut costs. Art, music, and sports programs have already been cut from many curricula. Even areas such as school computer programs and IT support have to cut their spending. As Connecticut schools face a growing budget crisis, school IT directors are looking for IT solutions to cut their budgets and still provide essential computer services to faculty and students.
Recently, the governor’s office announced a midyear budget cut of $50 million, including $20 million in education funding. Every school system in the state is affected, although the wealthier communities are expected to bear a larger financial burden. School cuts for the “most distressed” cities and towns, such as Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, have been capped at $250,000, which is about 1 percent of what they receive in educational assistance. However, schools in these cities face bigger financial woes. In Bridgeport, for example, schools are looking at a $2.5 million budget deficit.
As a result, school IT departments are looking at their spending and trying to find places to cut corners. As we have worked with school systems over the years, we have identified ways to reduce IT overhead, and many of these strategies will work well for small businesses as well as schools.
1. Cloud Computing
One of the biggest IT expenses is maintaining the school’s network. Servers become obsolete and demand for data storage increases. However, buying, installing, and maintaining new hardware can be expensive. To address the problem, more schools are looking at cloud computing options. Migrating to the cloud means less hardware, no software maintenance, and easy access to stored information from anywhere. It also opens up new possibilities for shared learning materials, such as lessons and digital textbooks.
In fact, since teachers can share textbooks and prepared video lectures from the cloud, more schools are adopting a flipped classroom approach, where the material is studied at home and the classroom is used for discussion and review. Clearly, cloud computing saves money and can improve the quality of education.
2. Wireless Networking
Of course, to support cloud computing in the classroom you have to have a reliable network. Schools are migrating to wireless networks to provide easy access, including guest access, without additional cabling, routers, etc. Installing 802.11ac wireless routers at strategic locations can provide all students with access to school resources and the web, and wireless networking is basically trouble-free.
3. Notebooks and Tablets
Mobility in the classroom is part of the new computer learning model. The old computer lab is dead, and use of notebook computers and tablets has become the norm. The cost for web-based mobile hardware is a fraction of the old workstations, and while teachers want to have enough notebooks for every student, you may have to promote resource sharing to conserve budget. Still, more students will have access to computer hardware at a reduced cost.
For some of the wealthier school districts, a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy may work. Students who have their own tablets, laptops, and smartphones can use them for schoolwork, which reduces the cost of having to provide notebooks for the classroom. Of course, special precautions will have to be taken to ensure secure mobile computing so students don’t infect the school network with malware.
5. Outsource Routine IT Operations
One of the biggest budget savers is identifying time-consuming, routine IT tasks and get someone else to deal with them. For example, network backup is a necessary evil, but your staff doesn’t have to waste time doing backup – find a managed service provider to do it for you. Similarly, routine maintenance problems such as printer support consume most of IT’s time. These, too, can be contracted out, saving staff time and money. If you perform a cost analysis, you will see how much you can save if you outsource.
6. Contract for Help Desk Support
When you have educators using computers in the classroom, they are inevitably going to need some help. Your on-site team may be expert at troubleshooting video projectors and routine networking problems, but with new teaching methods such as the flipped classroom, how do you support the staff after hours? Having help desk personnel on call could be the answer. Whether there is a problem with lesson prep in the evening, or help with a computing problem during school hours, the added help you need can be a phone call away. It also frees your staff to deal with more important issues.
These are just some suggestions as to how to save the school’s IT budget. There are others, but the school IT department doesn’t have to come up with all the answers. Getting expert assistance from a managed services provider could mean real savings for schools. An independent expert can perform a cost/benefit analysis and identify hidden savings in the school’s IT strategy. The right partner will save you a bundle.