Tech leadership in 2023-24: Funding and facilities are top priorities

"School districts, we’re not known for spending lavishly. We tend to use equipment to its bitter end," tech leader says.

Here’s one of the top messages for K12 tech leadership in 2023-24 that bears repeating: You really do have a role to play in every aspect of your district’s operations. For example, the cafeteria refrigerators—and the infrastructure that surrounds them—may need your attention, says Tylene Cunning, technical support supervisor at Pflugerville ISD in Texas.

“Even cafeteria refrigerators are now on the network—to monitor the temperature,” says Cunning, who cites this development to illustrate why tech leadership teams have to be extensively involved throughout the design process for new school construction.

Tech leaders also have to be front and center when districts put together bond proposals to raise funds, particularly when it comes to technology replacement cycles, adds Tim Klan, administrator of information and instructional technology at Livonia Public Schools in Michigan. His district last passed a bond for technology in 2014 and is now in the process of bringing another proposal to the community’s voters.

“You need not just a long-term plan for bond dollars, but for facilities and equipment in general and how you’re going to continue to support the purchases after bond dollars are gone,” Klan says.

Hot topics for tech leadership

When it comes to replacing edtech, Klan says, consider the Chromebook. The ultra-popular laptops last about four years while districts often wait seven to 10 years to put a bond proposal on the local ballot. That’s why Livonia has a 10-year technology plan that details how long every piece of equipment will last. During budgeting season, this helps everyone stay on top of what will need to be replaced and the new purchases the district will need to make.

The exercise doesn’t necessarily identify the funding for future expenses but it does help tech leaders spread costs out over different fiscal periods. “School districts, we’re not known for spending lavishly. We tend to use equipment to its bitter end,” Klan continues.

Another bond essential is building trust, which Klan says he believes Livonia has established in spending the proceeds from the 2014 package. A pleasant surprise has been some of the systems installed back then have lasted longer than expected. The district’s communications department also shares with the public the innovative ways Livonia’s students and teachers are using technology.

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“When you have a good track record, the community knows they can trust you when you’re saying, ‘This is what we’re doing,'” he says.

Tech leaders are building new schools

Cunning and the IT team have been intimately involved from day one as Pflugerville ISD’s architects designed its next new elementary school, which is set to open in the fall. Cunning has tried to review every iteration of the blueprints with an eye toward standardization that will allow teachers to go anywhere in the building and know how to use the projectors and every other piece of technology.

Designing spaces that can be used flexibly is another priority. “We always have to think five years ahead for where technology is heading,” Cunning points out. “If architects design a room that’s going to be a closet, it will probably be somebody’s office in two years so we make sure there’s ventilation and AC in so it can be converted. Financially, it’s better to do all that up front.”

And of course, a school can never have enough Wi-Fi. These days, it’s critical for tech teams to guide architects in maximizing outdoor Wi-Fi capacity. There also needs to be space for cameras—and the all-important network connection points—in more places; for special education and security, in particular, Cunning explains.

Plus, no detail is small. In one of Pflugerville’s construction projects, there was an issue with the conduits being too small to accommodate HDMI cables. “You have to look at the drawings,” she concludes. “The architects want to build schools, make them pretty and come in at budget. We’re trying to build schools for the next five years. Cutting costs winds up costing more to fix in the long run.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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