School District Faces Computer ‘Disaster’

Board approves new IT position to keep 1,200 computers from crashing

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With little resistance, the Payson school board unanimously voted to increase staff in the Information Technology (IT) department after an alarmed Casey O’Brien threatened the school district would cease to function if the board did not beef up IT personnel.

“I’m looking at an IT department of two people,” said O’Brien, “If this happens, our IT will fail.”

Three years ago, seeing an opportunity to save money by combining two IT positions into one, the school district merged the IT director position with the student data reporting position, said O’Brien.

Since that time, the network of computers at the district has increased from 700 to 1,200, and the IT department has limped along with a single staff member doing the job of two people, said O’Brien,

Now she has been offered a higher paying job with a lighter workload in the private sector.

“We cannot compete with the private sector,” O’Brien told the school board at its meeting, “Unless we separate out the job.”

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“... the ADE is overreaching when auditors are making a decision on classroom instruction. Casey O’Brien School superintendent

Already struggling with 20-year old routers serving 1,200 computers, the school district’s IT department now faces onerous reporting requirements from the Arizona Department of Education on top of an already full plate of reporting requirements, said O’Brien.

“As part of the ‘Race to the Top’ program, we must have a detailed master schedule for every student from kindergarten to twelfth grade,” he said.

President Obama announced the Federal ‘Race to the Top’ challenge in 2009. Backed by $4.35 billion, the Federal government doled out multi-million dollar grants to states that showed initiative in education reform, reported the White House.

In order to qualify for grant monies, states had to prove they would do the following reforms:

• Work toward creating common academic standards and methods to assess critical thinking and knowledge skills.

• Improve teacher and principal preparation and job support; retool teacher evaluations and retention, placing the most talented teachers in schools and subjects where they are needed the most.

• Create statewide data systems that track attendance and academic success making the data available to anyone interested, such as parents.

• Reform education by creating partnerships with business leaders, educators and parents to increase success. Expand support for charter schools, math and science education, and promote new ideas.

Arizona failed to qualify for funding in the initial round, but this year got $25 million to aid Arizona education reform and beef up its reporting program, said O’Brien.

Payson will receive $21,000 over the next three years to comply, which the district may only spend on training staff to prepare for the common core standards, said O’Brien.

No money will come to the Payson school district to cover the cost of meeting the additional reporting requirements.

“There is no money for school personnel or infrastructure for additional reporting,” said O’Brien, “Arizona is legend for unfunded mandates.”

The district will have to bear the additional costs of the increased reporting.

O’Brien told the school board that because of the specialized knowledge needed to understand the state student reporting data requirements, it will take about two years to train the new IT person. O’Brien said he has identified several district employees who have experience with both the state and district reporting software, which he hopes will make the new reporting easier.

“All our funding is driven by how many students are enrolled each day,” said O’Brien, “We can’t afford to not do this.”

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