Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Outsourcing school district IT staff

I received a very troubling phone call today from a technology director in a rural school, whose superintendent has apparently decided to “outsource” him and his lone technician. All the details are not finalized, but the proposal is to terminate both employees’ current positions with the school district (ostensibly to save the district money in our current budget crisis) and re-hire both individuals on a contract basis as they work for a commercial vendor not only supporting IT in their original district, but also in about six other neighboring districts.

I know we have some of Oklahoma school districts already outsourcing many technology support functions to commercial vendors, so this idea is not novel, but I don’t think I’ve encountered a situation like this where a school district’s leaders are negotiating to immediately re-hire their same full-time employees on a contract basis to do the same work they had previously done for MUCH more money on a salary with benefits. Have you heard of other schools which have done this? Are their legal employment issues at stake which this tech director should know about?

The vendor in question is also supposedly negotiating with the administration to be the “sole source” provider of technology hardware as well as support in the district. If a “sole source” situation does not in fact exist for the school district (other vendors can sell them netbooks and software, for example) I question the legitimacy of the district leader’s ability to grant “sole source” status to this particular vendor. This all sounds very fishy to me.

What do you think? What advice would you offer to this technology director, in a very unusual and awkward situation?

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6 responses to “Outsourcing school district IT staff”

  1. Ryan Collins Avatar

    How large is the district?

    If this would happen in my district (where there is only me as a technology coordinator and one lone technician) there is no way I’d go work for the vendor. For starters, my retirement is with the Ohio STRS (State Teachers Retirement System). What happens to the tech directors retirement?

    My other question would be how is this going to save the district money? I can’t imagine a scenario where this situation wouldn’t be more expensive, unless the vendor is really cutting the tech director’s and technician’s salary. We used to outsource a technician 1 day a week. When that started costing us $18,000 a year, we decided to drop that. We needed a technician for more time, but it would be cheaper to hire a person outright than outsource.

    What sort of SLA is the vendor going to offer the district? If something vital breaks (treasurer can’t pay bills/do payroll), how soon will the vendor have someone onsite?

    It’s late, I’ll probably think of more questions as I sleep…

  2. Shelley Owen Avatar

    I encourage everyone to read Craig Nansen’s reply to this post right now. Like Craig, my blood pressure went up, up, up when I saw this post. There are so many reasons why outsourcing tech and IT support is wrong for education. The main one is summed up by Craig nicely, “Many non-educators, in charge of technology and networks, forget their purpose – to help educate the students!” We need immediate and on-going IT support from people who understand how technology is used in an education setting. From imaging computers to understanding all types of educational software, to the ever changing parameters of content filters, the IT director is an integral and important position in any district. Trying to cut corners and supposedly save money in this way will fail miserably and the ones who will suffer from this the most will be the students. Parents in that district and the IT Director’s union should be rushing to his side in support of his and the lone tech’s jobs!

  3. Luke Allen Avatar

    It’s bad enough that we already have too many educational decisions being made my non-educators, are we now going so far as to outsource those decisions to even more non-educators who are even further removed from the environment impacted by their decisions?

  4. John Rundag Avatar

    I had one of these “full service” companies contact my superintendent in March 2009. She told me who the company was and said they were using “aggressive sales tactics”. She gave me the information (she took notes during the phone call) and I contacted the company. I disputed the data they had given her and told them that I make the IT decisions in the district and if we wanted their services, we would contact them. I told them if they contacted anyone in the district besides me, I would pursue litigation.

    I talked with other superintendents and these companies are calling them daily, sending emails and showing up without an appointment to get more customers. I have talked with some districts that use these companies and most have terminated the contract after a year or two because it ends up costing more in the long run and there were many complaints from staff.

    My question to the superintendents that make the decision to outsource IT would be, “Would you outsource your teachers?”

  5. M. Westbrook Avatar
    M. Westbrook

    There are political side benefits to outsourcing probably not lost on school boards. You can lower (okay hide) your staff to student ratios, including the ever popular manager to teacher ratios. Unions love that. So do parents and newspapers.

    So, they hire the existing staff then start screwing with them. Take away their public retirement and their job security. What happens? The ones who can find better jobs leave – particularly the managers. It leaves the district with the lowest performers no one else wants and no one to motivate them. How’s that a good deal?

    The value-add is in the in-house staff, not the out-sourced company. This assumes a motivated and productive IT management team. If it’s apathetic or underperforming (or underappreciated), they are ripe pickings for outsourcing.

    Outscoring is not an altruistic enterprise. It’s a business model based on economies of scale – doing it for enough districts and hire or re-hire cheaper talent while offering fewer benefits. Every decision the outsourcer makes is based on their own bottom line, not the of district or the kids. That never comes up in the sales pitch. They know the “for the children speech” well, even while the entire time they’re thinking “cash cows”.