As budgets in schools ebb and flow, administrators are faced with the challenge of evaluating budgets for their departments. It is no secret that schools spend a great deal of money on education technology and that technology directors are often impacted by large budget cuts. We have spoken with technology directors around the country about how to effectively evaluate their education technology budget, and these are some of their recommended strategies.
First and foremost, it is necessary to have a concrete plan about what the district is hoping to get out of the technology. We discussed how crucial this is in our “Important Questions” blog. While it is important to have a vision of the technology that you want in the district, you need to be able to support why that technology is necessary. It’s not enough to say that the district needs interactive whiteboards, for example; you must take it a step further and say how interactive whiteboards will support both teachers and, most importantly, enhance student learning.
Another important question to ask is what the teachers and students will be using the technology for. Many educators we’ve spoken with have said that they only use about 10% of the features available on the expensive interactive whiteboards their district has. While they do utilize their interactive whiteboards for many different activities, they feel that they have not utilized enough of the features to justify such an expensive purchase. If the teachers are mainly going to use the product for simpler activities, then a high-end product with complex features may not be the right choice.
When evaluating your education technology budget, it is also important to factor in whether the product can be shared between classrooms. Many technology directors we have talked to said that they utilized a check-in, check-out system for a great deal of their technology purchases. The Nashua School District started off by purchasing a few BoardShare units that could be shared between classrooms rather than having a BoardShare unit in every classroom. The teachers were able to utilize the units when they needed it, and then share the units with another classroom after they were done. This ultimately allowed the Nashua School District to save money until they were ready to purchase a BoardShare unit for every classroom. If the classrooms are not going to be using tablets or laptops every hour of the day, then a technology director can purchase enough laptops and tablets to effectively share between classrooms.
Recurring costs and maintenance costs are two vital factors to consider. Many educators say that their technology directors mainly took the initial costs into account, and did not consider the price of software updates or replacing the technology that is breaking down. The cost of software updates alone can often end up costing more than the initial price of the product. If the product breaks, what is the cost of repairing it? Can you have it sent to the company for testing? What is the product warranty? Researching product reliability is crucial so that you can answer these questions and factor potential maintenance into the overall budget.
If there is a product that you know will be integrated district-wide, it will make more sense to purchase the product in bulk; most companies will offer discounts for bulk purchases, allowing some extra wiggle room for your budget.
While each district differs in terms of purchasing procedures and overall budget, these suggestions can help ensure that your technology dollar goes the extra mile.