Outsourcing seems to be emerging as a preferred solution to solve technology problems in Riverside Elementary School District 96.
Last week the district held a technology forum attended by approximately 50 people, including many teachers. Outsourcing seemed a popular idea among the attendees, especially those who work with technology in the private sector.
In January, the president and chief executive officer of technology firm Net56 gave a presentation to the District 96 school board outlining the advantages of hiring his firm to handle the district’s technology infrastructure and functions.
Outsourcing, which would likely involve using a private firm’s servers and data center, seems to be gaining support on the school board.
“I think it is quite clear that outsourcing is the way to go,” said school board member Michael O’Brien near the end of the technology forum.
Board member Art Perry, who works as a software consultant, also is attracted to the outsourcing idea, but wants more specifics about how much it would cost and what it would entail.
“I don’t think technology is a core competency of a public school district,” Perry said. “I think a technology firm can probably do a better job, get economies of scale and get the expertise to share with other school districts and other clients better than we can just do in-house.”
District 96 is currently without a technology director; its former director left his job last month to take a job in another school district.
Bruce Koch, the president and CEO of Net56, a Palatine-based technology firm that handles technology for school, government and commercial clients, told the board at its Jan. 21 meeting that if his firm were hired the district would probably not need a technology director.
Koch also told the board that the district’s bandwidth must be increased.
“You can’t live on what you’ve got,” Koch said.
Koch recommended that the district upgrade to a fiber Internet connection, which would vastly increase the bandwidth necessary to take full advantage of the district’s one-to-one laptop program for students in fifth through eighth grade.
District 96 Director of Academic Excellence Brian Ganan said that the district’s bandwidth limitation results in delays in the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests that students take. The results of that test are used to adjust curriculum and teaching.
“To be completely honest, it takes a long time to get through our [MAP] testing, a couple weeks,” Ganan said at the technology forum. “That was an immediate concern for me. To have to wait on data nowadays is difficult.”
In 2015, the Illinois Scholastic Achievement Test (ISAT) is scheduled to be replaced by the new PARCC test, which will be taken online. Right now, the antiquated Apple servers that District 96 uses are not up to handling the load.
“Some of our servers definitely need to be updated to run PARCC tests,” said Matt Ahlenius, the district’s technology specialist. “It’s not just a bandwidth issue.”
The district’s current limited bandwidth also causes problems when entire classes, or multiple classes, want to access the Internet to access data-intensive things such as videos or applications like Google Earth.
Ahlenius also said the district lacks an effective disaster-recovery program to protect its data.
“If there were a catastrophic event, we wouldn’t be able to recover the data that was lost,” Ahlenius said.
Outsourcing was also a popular idea among many of the residents who attended the technology forum, especially those with a background in technology.
“The stroke of a pen would solve many problems,” said Chris McCarthy, a district resident who has paid close attention to the district’s technology issues.
But one district parent was skeptical of claims that outsourcing would save money.
“It’s not always cheaper,” said Liz Buoscio, a mother of three children at Ames School. Buoscio works for an advertising agency and deals with technology providers.
“At the front it might be cheaper, but they always get you in the end,” she said. “You’re not necessarily going to save money.”
The next step for the board could be to put together a request for proposal, asking for bids to handle the district’s technology needs.
The board could take a step-by-step approach to outsourcing.
Ahlenius told the board that he believes the greatest immediate need is to replace the district’s antiquated and troublesome email server. The second priority, he said, is instituting a help desk system.
Perry supported the step-by-step approach.
“I actually think the phased-in approach makes sense,” Perry said. “We have some low-hanging fruit.”
How quickly the district can make changes remains to be seen.
“I would like to have something in place by August,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know if that’s feasible.”