Executive Summary

  1. The district’s most pressing technology needs total $8.5 million. With current funding sources and financing options, the district could begin immediately executing this plan without any new bond or tax increase. If there is an argument that the proposed security investments are a necessity, this too could be sourced from established revenue streams and not require a tax increase.
  2. Taking a more restrained approach to technology niceties (as opposed to necessities), the total funding required should be closer to $6 million. This would dramatically reduce finance charges and reduce perpetual dependence on a higher bond debt levy.
  3. Some bond proposal elements do not make sense. These total $4.5 million.

The total bond increase required on this basis should be closer to 0.5 mills – nearly one fifth less than the original proposal.

This is the responsible path to take because it moves the districts technology needs forward and lessens the risk of a bond proposal failing. No one should assume a bond proposal would pass – let alone a tax increase of 20%.

The Details of a 0.5 mill Technology Bond Proposal

In the most recent revision of the Grosse Pointe Public School System Technology bond, the total proposed expenditure would be $27 million, down from the original $48 million.

The district has unique assets at its disposal: a Sinking Fund that yields $2.5 million per year, a Debt Fund with about $1 million in remaining equity, projected operating budget surpluses totaling $15 million over the next 4 years, and the conclusion of the non-voted energy bond debt of $675,000 per year starting in the 2015-16 school year.

I hate to break this to everyone, but this is NOT the profile of a district on life support.

What technology investments does the district really need to make, what are nice to have, and what don’t make any sense? Here’s my take:

Absolute Necessities – Total Cost of $8.5 million

  • Refresh of existing district PC’s. The district reports the need to refresh 2,900 units at a cost of $1,000 each. District employees account for about 800 of these, that leaves 2,100 for labs and other student uses. That’s a ratio of 4 students to every one computing device – WITHOUT any additional student computing devices (iPads and the like). This number of student PC’s more than satisfies the expected needs driven by the new Smarter Balanced (online) testing mandated by the state, which recommends a ratio between eight and eleven students per device (see p. 4 of this report). Do not be duped into believing every student needs a device to respond to new online testing requirements.
  • Wi-Fi throughout all buildings. The district has estimated this cost at $902,000. We need this and should have it. This would allow many of the above PC’s to become laptops and wireless access would lessen dependence on computer labs to take tests or otherwise use computers in classroom settings.
  • Core Network Switches and File Servers. This enables our local area network speeds to support the district’s 1Gb Wide Area Network speeds. The district projects this to cost $3.2 million. We’ll given this the benefit of the doubt, but it’s possible this number could be less if we don’t go the ill-advised path of building a private wide area network.
  • Media Center and Computer Lab Redesign. Although little details are shared, given the new PC’s and network improvements, let’s assume the district’s $1.5 million estimate is accurate.

How to fund Absolute Necessities without a new bond or tax increase:

  • Use remaining Bond Fund Equity to complete W-Fi project. ($1 million)
  • Use the Sinking Fund to complete Computer Lab redesign. ($1.5 million)
  • Finance the PC refresh, network switch and file server upgrades over 5 years at a cost of roughly $1.5 million per year. For this year and the next year that’s a straight $1.5 million out of the projected operating surplus (no cuts required) and starting in the third year, apply the $675,000 from the expiring energy bond payment (that is already in the operating budget) to this expense, reducing reliance of projected surplus to $825,000 per year, a number the operating budget can certainly afford. ($6 million)

Nice to Have’s that can be sourced from Sinking Fund – Total Cost of $1.7 million

  • Security Investments. This assumes the community really feels we need to add nearly 600 cameras in and around our schools and implement a security swipe entry system. (Anyone recall how the high school students rebelled against lanyards?) In any case, phase into this $1.7 million investment from the Sinking Fund.

Nice to Have’s that may require a tax increase – Total Cost of $6.2 million

  • Classroom Technology. Presuming this is needed on top of the refreshed PC’s and pre-existing whiteboard, this is a $1 million expense.
  • Printers and Copiers. Again, we’ll give this strikingly high $2.5 million expense the benefit of the doubt.
  • Student Computing Devices. One of the most problematic of the proposal’s elements, this expense has already been cut in half. Even with the proposed 4,200 devices, this moves the ratio of computing devices per pupil from the already low 4 to 1 to 1.3 to 1. Moving this to 2,100 on top of the existing 2,100 gives the district an incredibly favorable 2 to 1 ratio of students to computing devices – something VERY few districts can claim. This would yield a total cost of $1 million.
  • Single Sign On / VDI. Presuming this scales with the number of computing devices, this expense can also be cut in half to $875,000.
  • Telephone Replacement. The district already has a very functional Cisco IP phone system and, with new PC’s and other infrastructure improvements, reliance on phones should go down, but even giving this the benefit of the doubt, it is on the smaller end of the bond cost elements at $800,000.

Ones that just don’t make any sense – Total Cost of $4.5 million

  • Digital TV / Streaming Media Support. This one (a $1.2 million expense) looks like a real stretch, but even if deemed an absolute necessity, and should be re-evaluated for a better delivery model. As it stands, this would increase our dependence on internally obtained, hosted and managed servers and storage (which drives support costs up) including…
  • Generator, UPS and cooling replacements. This $2.5 million expense is evidence of the district’s failure to embrace cloud computing. This proposal clearly contemplates an internal data center environment. Business everywhere are ridding themselves of data centers and associated cost. Philosophically the district should establish a goal to rid ourselves of internally hosted and maintained equipment.
  • Private Fiber Network. The most nonsensical of all the proposal’s elements, not only is there no need for this, it moves us in the wrong direction. The district already has a 1 Gigabit network by virtue of the Board awarding a 5 year contract to Comcast this past February. Such networks come with routers and management. Even though this is listed at a $750,000 expense, it would undoubtedly increase our reliance on internal staff.