The two of us wrapped our hands around our coffee cups and settled in at the meeting table in his office. He moved a stack of papers and a three ring binder to give us a little more room to work.
“I just got back from a meeting with a representative from the state school boards association and all the other superintendents in this area and the news isn’t good.” He sipped from his coffee.
“We’re going to take another big hit in the amount of state aid we get. If that happens, and we all expect it to, I don’t know how we’re going to deal with it.” his face reflected the seriousness of the situation.
“Last year, we brought in the budget with a 4.5% increase. I cut some major priorities, I reorganized some personnel, I left some staff and administrative positions vacant; and the killer is, the public fought me every step of the way, saying I hadn’t cut enough. It’s going to be even harder this year and I’ve already cut things to the bone.” His face morphed from seriousness to a look of hopelessness.
This was an affluent district with a lukewarm commitment to technology. The administration and teachers looked at technology as something to ‘enhance’ learning, a nice ‘add on’ to what was already going on in the classroom.
The superintendent believed that technology was not an ‘add on’ but the key to substantially improving teaching and learning. One of his first initiatives after getting settled in his position was to hire me to help the district develop a technology plan and in the process, build a new commitment to technology as a fundamental and indispensable part of teaching and learning. We had been making good progress; but hearing his story about the district’s finances, I began to get worried.
We had a decent technology budget with which to work. The district had just finished paying off a three-year equipment lease and it was our plan from the outset to re-commit to another three- year lease. This wouldn’t increase the budget and yet allow us to embark on some meaningful initiatives.
He continued, “The teachers’ union has already asked if I intend to spend money on technology in next year’s budget. They’re going to raise hell if I buy computers and trim the budget in other areas, especially not filling vacant teacher slots, or if I increase class sizes at any of the schools.”
I spoke up hastily, “It’s a false choice. It’s not either we have technology or we have a full teaching staff. That’s not fair. You could say the same thing about dozens of other items in the budget. ‘Either we have textbooks or a full staff, either we have a custodial staff or a teaching staff, either we have buses or a full staff, or either we maintain the buildings or have a full teaching staff’; it’s a crazy and dangerous kind of logic.”
He nodded, “I know; but it’s already started. I’m thinking of not renewing the technology lease.”
“Then this planning we’re doing isn’t going to produce any real change?” I was clearly frustrated.
He tried to reassure me, “We can re-instate the lease a year from now.”
We both new that once the lease was removed from the budget it would be extremely difficult to put it back in; and who knew if the financial picture would be much different a year from now.
So there it is, a shrinking economy, a distressed school budget, and difficult choices to make. Things that are considered “enhancements” or “add-ons” are the first to go.
How is technology viewed in your district? Is it central to teaching and learning, or is it something that is being slowly “integrated” and adopted into the existing curriculum?
How can we avoid making technology the target and pitting it against teachers and class sizes? How can we maintain, support, and grow the use of technology as our financial situation worsens?
There is a Mid-Eastern saying that says,
“As the waterhole gets smaller the animals view each other differently.”
How will the others view us?
* Any similarities to real situations, people, or schools is purely coincidental.