There has been a great deal of coverage lately of the Iowa legislature’s approval of a 1.1% allowable growth rate for the 2017-18 school year. With a number of educational technology projects in the works, one of the questions that I’ve received from a number of teachers and community members over the last week is how our upcoming initiatives will be impacted by the allowable growth figure.
First, a quick overview of allowable growth. This number is really an annual inflationary increase that establishes the amount that a school district is authorized to spend per pupil. Further, the allowable growth rate generally matches the increase in basic state aid to school districts. You can think about it as analogous to an increase in an hourly wage; if I go $12.55/hr to $12.69/hr, I’ll earn more money as long as I work the same number of hours. Ultimately, allowable growth allows districts to address the increasing costs of providing for students’ educational needs.
How does ICCSD fund technology?
While allowable growth primarily impacts a district’s general fund, the Iowa City Schools fund most technology purchases with the infrastructure funding mechanisms SAVE and PPEL. SAVE is funded through a sales tax that has been implemented statewide, and PPEL is funded through a property tax levy, the bulk of which is voter approved. As such, allowable growth doesn’t directly impact the primary sources through which we fund technology equipment and most software.
So the 1.1% allowable growth rate won’t derail the 1:1, elementary device, and classroom suite initiatives?
Correct, those purchases are being made using funding sources other than the general fund. We’ll still be able to develop infrastructure, purchase student-use devices, and provide the needed software frameworks as planned.
So no big deal then, right?
Not so much, unfortunately. While I said that technology purchases are generally made using SAVE and PPEL, we cannot pay staff salaries out of those funding sources. Currently, the ICCSD technology department is staffed lightly in comparison to state and national averages for school districts of our size. For instance, whereas we currently support a deployment of over 11,000 devices, we have only 5 field technicians to provide support to those devices, or roughly 2,200 devices per technician. Further, in a given year, our technical support staff responds to over 25,000 requests for support, straining our field technicians, help desk, and systems/network administrators. As we expand our deployment to over 14,000 devices, that ratio becomes even less tenable.
We plan to base Technology & Innovation staff technicians out of each of the high schools in the fall, in order to provide direct support to the 1:1 initiatives and to facilitate the student technician programming (article coming soon!) that is an exciting addition to our curricular and experiential opportunities. At this point, we’re hoping to add field technician positions in order to staff these roles without doing a disservice to the staff and students in the rest of the district; while not impossible, a 1.1% allowable growth rate makes this type of addition very difficult to afford.
Beyond a need for field technicians, our district is under-served – by comparison to similar districts – in terms of technology integration support for teachers, network and systems administration staff to keep our systems operational, and database and application development staff who could ultimately contribute to creating efficiencies within other departments.
Further, as our district faces substantial facilities needs through our rapidly expanding enrollment, such a low allowable growth rate eliminates the possibility of funding a larger portion of the facilities master plan (FMP) projects with additional dollars out of SAVE by moving some technology purchases to the general fund.
Is that all?
Not quite. None of this touches on the critical importance of our fantastic teaching staff, who deserve not only the technology to help students achieve to their utmost potential, but also the staffing levels to facilitate the same end. We need to be able to staff computer science, engineering, and other STEAM-related courses with qualified teachers who are well-versed in the technology tools of their areas. We need to provide teachers with reasonable student-teacher ratios, supports for integration of instructional technologies, and time to adapt lessons to incorporate innovative and advanced technology.