Election Day tomorrow will see schools in just the Metro Detroit area seek well over a quarter billion dollars in tax revenue increases for technology bonds. Tech bonds are a form of Capital Bonds that skirt the revenue increase limitations placed on Michigan public schools by Proposal A.
The impact of that limitation on Capital Bonds is undeniable. In 1994, the last year before Prop A, Michigan Public Schools aggregate Capital Bond expenditure was about $4 billion. In 2011 it was $14 billion. The irony is this was precisely the kind of distributed, but incremental tax increase pattern Proposal A aimed to address.
What’s more ironic is that at a time when the state government wants to play a larger role in local school governance AND create a more attractive tax environment, they are badly missing on both in this instance.
No, this isn’t a call for the state to limit Capital and Technology Bond policy. Instead the state could quite easily be a player in the market and provide centralized, secure and scalable shared technology infrastructure services for the local school districts – or even source the same centrally from a third party such as Amazon, Google, or many other providers.
What’s happening instead? 550 plus local school districts build out or contract their own technology capacity on their own, a massive duplication of limited resource and a waste of a leveraged spend opportunity.
The State of Michigan already has massive computing infrastructure and professional resources. They could increase that capacity at an increment of the cost of the local school districts doing it on their own who could then tap into it via massively growing bandwidth options – at prices that get cheaper every year. The state could then provide centralized services for e-mail, web hosting, centralized storage, virus and intrusion detection, web filtering (and on and on and on). Just as importantly, the state has the technology staff to support this as well. Instead, the locals all hire their own.
Would the locals be forced to subscribe to the state in such a model? Of course not. Let the free market work in this regard as the state seeks the same in all aspects of public education. If the locals can cost justify hiring their own technology resources and buying and supporting their own technology infrastructure, so be it.
The odds, however, would be against it and thereby this massive increase in technology bond spending might be solved.
The locals, and their Intermediate School District partners, should push the state in this direction. But even if the state is unresponsive, the locals or ISD’s should find a way to partner on their own.
Going it alone on technology is a strategy anathema to the very technology movement of which the locals seek to be a part. This growing trend is foolish in both the short and long-term, financially, functionally and from a best practices point of view.