At the beginning of the 2010 Hawaii Legislative session, with the State facing a $1.1 billion budget deficit, I wrote a five-part series for our Legislature and for our tech community. The purpose was to demonstrate simple procurement decisions, and abuses, that subsidized technology-driven jobs in locations other than our own economy. During the hours that I was writing this on 1-26-10, the final essay, I learned that our recently appointed Vice-Superintendent of Education decided to remove me from the teachers' mailing list that has served as an avenue for knowledge and transparency.
The Price Paid for No Strategic Direction.
During the 2010 Legislative session, what is the ratio of tech support personnel to Senate and Senate staff? During the school year, what is the ratio of tech support personnel to teachers, students, and administrators? While you may enjoy a 1to 50 ratio, or less, your schools suffer from an approximate 1 to 250 ratio, or greater. Local private schools have ratios similar to that which is enjoyed in the Legislature, and the results generally show.
Chances are you are more familiar with the Principal or favorite teacher at your school than you are with the Tech Coordinator. It is more likely that you do not know what the Tech Coordinator position is. While understandable, we cannot make a fundamental change in our schools' budget without understanding that the unsung heroes of the DOE are the certified teachers who are responsible for campus-wide tech support often while still teaching classes. This would be similar to you expecting the Legislative custodians to provide tech support.
The reason why I care so much, and the reason why I have attempted to capture your attention with these five essays, is because I have given the last decade of my life to learning who the Tech Coordinators are in our Department of Education. I know of no citizen who has voluntarily provided so much support, for free, to these workhorses of our economy. Most of my service has been through our public Tech Cadre mailing list, and knowing what they endure to provide support to our teachers, students, and administrators has enabled me to provide publicly beneficial and strategically sound advice to our schools and education leaders.
This final essay begs a simple question: Who is making the strategic technology decisions for our Department of Education? Is it the ATRB, OCISS, IBM, the Vice-Superintendent, the Superintendent, the Principal, vendors, or Tech Coordinators?
Because procurement policies have not been driven with fiscal sensitivity or long term sustainability, we now have the following situations in our DOE that are the direct result of depending on contractors to license software rather than counting on entrepreneurs and members of the HSTA, HGEA, and UPW to provide the services we need:
- eSIS - The Electronic Student Information System is one of the greatest procurement debacles of the last decade. What was supposed to provide a single directory of parent-accessible student information turned into justification to purchase new IBM hardware for each teacher. In classic bait and switch tactics, teachers were sold one version but the DOE only licenses limited features. Should you take it upon yourself to get the honest and unthreatened opinion of eSIS from the people supporting it and who had their Macs and MacSchools SIS replaced with new IBM hardware and eSIS, you will find yourself with more questions than answers. To date our vendor requires a version of Java that Sun no longer protects against security breaches and violations thus jeopardizing the data integrity of our entire DOE. Free alternatives exist that serve parents and students better and that entrepreneurs, HGEA, HSTA, and UPW can support.
- HSA - The Hawaii State Assessment test is being given online this year, and we have paid to develop a "secure" web browser for Tech Coordinators to install on every testing computer. Free and secure browsers already exist, yet we are paying to develop our own web browser for only one years' use. Tech Coordinators are investing countless hours doing the testing and debugging that we have paid a mainland vendor for. There is inadequate communication from DOE leaders to the schools' Tech Coordinators who are tasked with testing, installing, and supporting the HSA secure browser. This is costing precious time and resources. The HSA browser will not support the most common screen size in the DOE - the Netbook, thus requiring the purchase of new hardware at a time when our schools have little. Who is strategically responsible for this decision, and how many millions of dollars will it cost?
ATRB - The Advanced Technology Research Branch. Countless vendors work directly with ATRB staff who become trainers, liaisons, and advocates for a specific product or software license. We, as taxpayers, actually fund a State position that works as an unpaid employee for the vendor we pay. Until recently, schools paid the ATRB to attend a technology show where the vendors who had relationships with ATRB demonstrated their wares. Unless you can cite how Hawaii is leading America in any advanced technology research, I will suggest that this entire DOE entity is ripe with questionable procurement policies that more than exceed the cost to restore Furlough Fridays. Why, for instance, is the ATRB not doing the testing of the HSA secure browser?
- eCSSS - No responsible entity with the buying power of the DOE would force Special Education teachers to use outdated and insecure web browsers to manage the information of Special Education students as Federally mandated by the Felix Decree. This is the exactly the extent of the strategic leadership of our DOE every time our SPED teachers access the eCSSS web portal. This is a web portal that requires what is supposed to be the epitome of cross-platform standardization - a web browser, yet we allow a vendor to require an insecure, non-standard web browser of our SPED teachers. Why are some DOE employees using an insecure browser for eCSSS, why are we paying to develop a secure browser for HSA, and why is ATRB not part of this research?
- Bandwidth - It is universally accepted that high-speed access to the Internet is critical for gaining an educational edge. When OCISS, ATRB, Principals, and Superintendents make decisions to procure software and hardware requiring bandwidth, who coordinates the strategic impact on the limited broadband connection at each school? Due to single-sourcing of solutions across all schools, certain times of the school year it becomes nearly impossible to access the web-based services our DOE is purchasing. Enterprise appliances exist that allow the bonding of two Internet connections per school, and the software to do so is free and can be supported by entrepreneurs, HGEA, HSTA, and UPW.
- Telephones - Every school in the DOE has a Nortel Meridian PBX and phone system single-sourced from Hawaiian Telcom - a subsidiary of the private equity firm, The Carlyle Group. If better priced and more robust VOIP, Voice over IP, solutions exist that provide evolutionary benefits to parents, PTA groups, students, and faculty, who is making the strategic decision to procure an outdated technology from a private equity firm? While teachers should be able to have voicemail converted to email, and parents should have automated voicemail announcements of critical events, and PTA groups could have the opportunity to send SMS, or Skype, or phone messages to their members, all of these features are strategically denied to our schools. The collective cost of this misappropriation would fund the establishment of a second tech coordinator position for each school.
- eWaste - In 2009 the Tech Coordinator for Enchanted Lake Elementary disposed of an entire, fully functional computer lab and bought a new one. The eWaste was taken away by Apple. This act deprived Hawaii of 30 usable computes, and it cost the taxpayers well over $30,000. There are some schools that have 160 unused Netbooks sitting in a closet, and there are some schools hoping to have the funds to buy the computers required for HSA. Who is strategically accountable for the ongoing wasted hardware and the gross discrepancy of computing resources across our schools? Why must your district have so little when others have excess? If web based 'cloud' applications are the foundation for the DOE's future, then why must excessively fast computers be purchased?
If we believe that human capital is more important than paying for the right to use someone else's software, then each of the preceding examples demonstrates where you can raise the capital in your schools and in the State to restore Furlough Fridays and to hire more humans.
R. Scott Belford. January 2010
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