Addressing Budget Realities

Along with many other school districts in Iowa, the Iowa City Community School District is working through a challenging budget situation for the coming fiscal year. After years of identifying opportunities for increased fiscal efficiency, there are few ways to further reduce costs without impacting service delivery and – ultimately – the classroom environment available to our children.

While I won’t address the District’s comprehensive efforts to address these challenges in this post, I do want to highlight some of the efforts we’ve made in the Office of Technology & Innovation. The past several years have been marked by significant technology-focused initiatives, including those focused on device availability and infrastructure, as well as initiatives such as our IDS Innovation team’s focus on instructional technology integration.

Cost Maintenance

One of the principles we’ve tried to adhere to – whether with staffing changes or with our classroom and student technology allocations – is that new initiatives do not substantially add cost beyond our status quo. Our secondary 1:1 initiative, for instance, costs somewhat less than our pre-1:1 status quo of maintaining a combination of computer labs and mobile carts, while most of our staffing changes have involved reallocation of existing FTEs (positions) within the department.

Staffing

That said, there are still opportunities for further savings. Tied to the District’s early-retirement program, the Office of Technology & Innovation expects to reduce personnel costs – which are a general fund expense – by approximately $100,000 after applying a cost-of-living adjustment for existing employees. This will also carry with it a reduction of 0.5 FTEs – through regular attrition – which, along with some reorganization of our staffing, we think we can absorb without substantial service reductions.

Shifting General Fund Expenses

The bulk of the District’s budget – and the focal point of the existing budget challenges – is the general fund, the primary funding source that the District uses to fund regular education program expenses. As it stands, the vast majority of the Office of Technology & Innovation’s non-staff expenses don’t actually come from the general fund, but instead come from the infrastructure-focused Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) and Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) categorical funds.

As we look to save general fund costs – which pay for teachers, classroom supplies, etc. – we are working to shift as many expenses as possible from the general fund to SAVE or PPEL. Examples of these shifts include the costs associated with our PowerSchool Student Information System (SIS), internet service costs, and website platforms. In all, we expect that in future years we’ll be able to shift about $300,000 per year from the general fund to categorical funds.

Capital Projects Wrapping Up

You may have noticed that shifting costs to SAVE/PPEL, as outlined above, doesn’t actually save the district money. Instead, it shifts those expenses to a categorical fund that is separate from the general fund, which is the source of most of our current budget challenges. In order to shift expenses, however, we need to have the capacity to do so.

In this case, we have a number of large-scale infrastructure improvement projects that have been underway since 2015 that will be wrapping up this year. An initiative to upgrade our in-building network infrastructure wraps up at West High School – our final building – this spring, and a district-wide wireless infrastructure upgrade wraps up this summer. The end of these multi-year initiatives, along with a handful of others, will free up approximately $1 million per-year in SAVE/PPEL capacity.

Recurring Cost Review

Another of the District’s broader approaches that we are implementing at the departmental level is review of recurring costs, and identifying opportunities to reduce or eliminate costs. As we transition to the next fiscal year, we’re excited about opportunities to, among others:

  • replace a $40,000 device management solution with a $900 solution that will offer equivalent capabilities
  • replace a $20,000 antivirus solution with a free solution
  • replace a per-device configuration service with an in-house, hardware-based solution that will reduce costs by about $27,000 per year (90%)
  • enter into a new internet service contract that will reduce our internet costs from approximately $3.80/Mb (including firewall expenses) to $0.35/Mb. After factoring in firewall expenses, we expect that this will result in a savings of approximately $54,000 per year
  • replace the District’s faxing solution to save $17,000 per year

Moving Forward

We will continue to look for costs to make our service delivery more efficient and cost-effective, regardless of whether we’re in a challenging budget situation or not. While I feel strongly that the services and resources we provide are valuable, I am also of the opinion that there is no reason to spend more than we need to in order to provide those resources that our students and teachers need.