Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

In response to the 2009 recession, only Hawaii has reduced school days and, consequently, compromised its future. Below is an essay that I shared with our elected officials in hopes of inspiring change.

Saving the DOE

Sometimes the most simple solutions are right before your eyes. As you read this message, perhaps you will ask yourself:

  • How much did the Operating System making this computer do its magic cost the taxpayers, and is there a better way?

  • How much did the Office Suite I use to create documents cost the taxpayers, and is there a better way?

  • How much does the Email Suite I use every day cost the taxpayers, and is there a better way?

  • How many Desktops across our Department of Education and the University of Hawaii are incurring the same cost, where do these dollars go, and would due diligence and adherence to procurement laws lead us to a lower cost or even a Free solution?

Let us then add to the mix these questions:

  • How much do our schools pay to license software applications such as our student information systems, curricula enhancing applications, and other applications being put out to bid as we speak?

  • How many Computer Science students, System Administrators, and Information Specialists do our Colleges and Universities graduate only to find little to no opportunity in our beloved Hawaii?

Is there a recipe that allows us to eliminate all of the above costs thus freeing dollars for education days and new hires while providing even better support to our completely overwhelmed and overworked Tech Coordinators who are the DOE's most critically under-utilized and under-appreciated resource?

Yes, there is.

  1. Our DOE has the opportunity to receive services, for Free, from Google. These can replace the cost of most Office Suite licenses across the DOE as well as the cost of email, calendering, and collaboration software. Last year a few schools took the innovative step towards 'cloud computing' by using Google's free Apps service. In considering the safety and practicality of this step and federal privacy issues such as FERPA, I introduced key Google personnel to our then acting Vice Superintendent who kindly reviewed the opportunity. On island there is now an agreement that could be formally signed for the Google Apps for Education suite of services. If there is an initiative to shift funds from proprietary licenses to humans needing jobs, then we can approach millions of dollars in savings.

  2. Many schools already use Free alternatives to usually licensed software thus saving you and I hundreds of thousands of dollars. Should their efforts be supported and nurtured not by competing outside vendors and volunteers but by DOE/UH initiative, policy. and internalized support, we can approach savings of the magnitude of Furlough Friday dollars. These include our content filters, our DHCP services, our caching proxies, our bare-metal imaging software, etc. To be clear, I am capable of and willing to overcome any objections, be they technical, legal, or managerial, to demonstrate this point.

  3. Student Information Systems exist, for Free. They are open for anyone to modify and to customize for their District or State. There is no doubt that many applications we license from off-island vendors are worth every penny, however, our own local graduates can improve upon the existing and Free applications already used by schools around the world. In doing so, we not only save money locally, but also provide services and value to the same markets from which we currently buy products. It's a simple proposition: either send dollars off-island to license, not to buy and own, software, or keep dollars on island to develop and own the software we use.

  4. As you read this, keyboards are being broken on precious laptops and netbooks across our DOE. I can purchase, and have priced, better quality customized laptops and netbooks, with replaceable keyboards costing only a few dollars, that our very own students can build. We already emphasize robotics, and STEM, and software programming. Why not start with assembling your own computer, as I have had children doing for years, so that their aptitude towards science and engineering and creating is activated at the earliest possible age? They will become the same students who support the software that we can create and customize locally. The fact is this - if I can price out a bulk order from Taiwan from the same upstream manufacturers who make the branded netbooks that you are buying, today, then why can't our DOE, with more buying power than many corporations, negotiate to do even better for you and I? See if you want a complete program. Quantifying this initiative requires assessing the tangible savings as well as the newly inspired aspirations.

  5. Apply steps 1-4 to The University of Hawaii, to your office, and to the rest of the State.

It would seem that procurement law and due diligence necessitates the consideration of lower cost alternatives unless, of course, there is a compelling and defensible reason to spend precious dollars to license what we cannot create or that already exists for free. If you are interested in holding hearings, then I will be happy to testify at all levels about the practicality of completing or beginning the above initiatives before July 2010. If you would like to visit one of my workshops where I teach all of the above, for free, then please let me know. I can also conduct one for you en mass. Seeing is believing.

What I know is that every student in our DOE and UH can have a netbook that they, with our without their parents, have built. With it they can have a common Desktop with access to all assignments and applications when at home, when at school, when sick, when traveling, and even when connecting through a free wireless network while transitioning through a homeless situation. If our Secretary of Education wants innovation from schools, then this recipe puts us well over the top.

R. Scott Belford. December 15, 2009

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

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Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 4, 2010 at 12:12pm
My wife is currently taking online classes at MCC. Being an advocate of online resources, I highly encouraged her to use Google Docs and Gmail for all her classwork. She said her math teacher loved it because it gave her the ability to 'share' homework with her teacher without having to email it. It also gave ability for teachers to comment on her 'shared' homework without creating multiple version of it. But best of all, it is a free service. It works well. Most of the features provided in Google Docs are enough to get her school work done. She can easily access her homework at home, at school, and with her mobile. She does not have to worry about saving backups or loosing her work. Docs are easily printable and exportable in different formats. She does not have to worry about software installations, Operating Systems, versions, etc.. just get online and do your work :)


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