Start With Why: 5 Steps for Effective TCO Management At Your District
Today’s ed tech considerations go way beyond initial purchasing costs.
As part of a new series, on April 14, Paper and CITE co-hosted a panel of district leaders to unpack the ongoing costs and complexities of 1:1 experiences: Seth Heeren, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, San Jacinto USD, and Dr. Grant Litfin, Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, Tustin USD.
Both district leaders brought a rich background of launching and maintaining large-scale initiatives into this conversation, sharing how they manage true costs of ed tech implementations—from initial device costs to ongoing software, maintenance, and training costs.
Below are five pieces of advice for district leaders managing the total cost of delivering 1:1 initiatives and experiences.
1. Set goals that are instruction-first, technology-second
When considering launching new technology initiatives, it's always smart to tie it to your instructional goal.
How does an initiative relate to students and your overarching mission, vision, and values for our school district? Mr. Heeren described this as taking the “student lens” as much as possible so that every initiative at San Jacinto USD aims at moving the needle in terms of student outcomes and wellbeing.
At Tustin USD, Dr. Litfin’s team let their instructional equity goals guide technology management. They put aside general funds yearly to equip every single classroom with new technology, facilities, and training every seven years.
2. Invest 3:1 on infrastructure, training, and repairs compared to the tech
If you want to roll out successful and long-lasting programs, prepare for the reality that the cost of the device itself is the most affordable component.
Leaders should be wary of inundating their school community with 1:1 programs without investing in the professional training, infrastructure, security, and repair costs that accompany these decisions. You should also have a robust plan for measuring your return on investment.
Focus on professional development, as you can’t be successful without support from your staff on both the physical and instructional sides of your goal. One way to conduct training is with district-wide mentoring programs for teachers and technologists, such as in Tustin USD.
Districts must also anticipate ongoing costs for repair and replacement. Mr. Heeren recommends finding the sweet spot with end-of-life for your technology so that you can prepare for replacement costs in predictable intervals.
3. Streamline your costs by achieving cost neutrality
For managing the total cost of ownership, Mr. Heeren recommends streamlining costs by working towards cost neutrality as much as possible.
Look at the resources you already have devoted to any particular initiative, and assess how you can tweak them to provide better experiences for more or less the same cost. This can involve retraining your staff and rewriting job descriptions as the needs of your district change. Instead of hiring dozens of new technicians at the onset of remote learning, San Jacinto USD trained their library media staff to help with IT support.
Districts should also prioritize standardization across platforms to make system repairs and replacement a smoother process. Systems like Clever work well for syncing different applications so they are accessible from any device across your district.
Function over flashiness is key. The hardest part with buying can be when leaders start to focus on the technology with the most capabilities or features, instead of focusing on other factors like durability, insurance, and warranties—Dr. Litfin recommends devoting significant energy on negotiating good deals with vendors.
4. Prioritize state and federal funding allocations
The federal and state stimulus dollars are one-time funds, and it’s crucial to acknowledge fund scarcity. Despite their magnitude, especially in comparison to previous economic downturns, districts can only spend them once. Ensure that whatever you’re investing in will deliver maximum return on investment for your stakeholders for years to come.
When considering new initiatives, Mr. Heeren recommends becoming an expert (or identifying one) to assess how it suits your operational and instructional needs.
Dr. Litfin gave the example of lighting a dark fiber network between all their school buildings to provide fast, secure, and dependable connectivity to their community—while cutting down on their bills—and delivering long-term value to the district. No easy feat, but possible thanks to their expert engineers.
Spend the most restricted dollars first, and while they should dream big, leaders should make sure their initiatives are sustainable with your daily bread and butter. Plan with your regular budget allocations and support mechanisms in mind because you don’t want to get stuck with maintenance, replacement, and training fees that you can’t afford a few years from now.
Mr. Heeren suggests a stoplight test, which allows his team to assess what they should start doing, what they’re doing right, and what they should stop doing in service of moving the needle in their district.
5. Break silos within your district and leverage your network
In high-stress, high-pressure environments—like when you’re tasked with constantly improving an entire community’s well-being at the district level—it’s only natural that we sometimes forget that we’re not in this alone.
Mr. Heeren ended the talk by emphasizing the importance of communication between districts, mentioning that he was glad to connect with Dr. Litfin on the panel so that they may further discuss a project Tustin had recently rolled out.
Educators, regardless of location or rank, all share a common goal: to help students grow. With this in mind, it’s essential that administrators reach out to one another and share ideas. Your districts may, at face value, not have much in common, but you are guaranteed to have encountered similar challenges and can save one another the trouble of reinventing the wheel every time.
Districts are not in competition with each other. We all want the same thing, so why do we operate in silos? If you’re having an issue, reach out to someone at a nearby district and see what they think. They just might have an answer, or at the very least will help you talk through it until a solution presents itself.
This panel discussion is part of our new series in collaboration with CITE on scaling 1:1 experiences for every student. Across three diverse panels, district administrators unpack the cost, infrastructure, and equity implications of 1:1.
On April 21, leaders from Bonita USD, La Cañada USD, Orange USD, and Val Verde USD will show you how to solidify your existing tech infrastructure to serve today’s dynamic classrooms.