Schools should pursue outsourcing -- with respect [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]
(Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) where we stand Outsourcing for information technology and related education endeavors is a proper course for Dubuque Community Schools. Meanwhile, district officials should allow employees directly and immediately affected to have their public say.
Nearly a month ago, a Telegraph Herald editorial supported Dubuque Community School District looking into outsourcing information technology services and using technology to improve student achievement. The editorial encouraged the district to proceed cautiously.
As officials' plans and goals come into focus, the question is not whether to outsource for IT services but how and with whom. That is the proper direction to pursue.
However, endorsement of a new direction is not a passport to get there by any means necessary. District employees immediately impacted by this change - current IT staff members who are likely to be released - should receive fair and respectful treatment.
This is not simply a question of who will install and maintain computers and smartboards in classrooms or administrative offices. It goes far beyond that, to strategies and techniques to use technology toward enhancing student achievement.
It won't be long before virtually every public school student in Dubuque will come to school carrying his or her computer, tablet, smart phone or technology that doesn't even exist today. Their classrooms will be equipped with new technology and their teachers will be well-trained in its use.
The huge increase in devices - in number and variety - and the need to better incorporate technology into a cohesive, effective educational plan is outside the capacity and expertise of an 11- member IT department. Even by hiring more employees, the demands of keeping up with trends, training and troubleshooting would be problematic for an in-house staff. More and more enterprises contract for this type of service.
Better outcomes may be expected - indeed, demanded - if the school district purchases those services and that expertise from a larger firm whose focus is technology. That vendor will be accountable to the school district, whose focus is education, not whether the computers are working properly.
The tie-in to the delivery of leading-edge instruction - a strategy that will affect more people more significantly than a single IT department - is not an expectation of current IT staff.
A leading candidate for a "co-sourcing" contract in Dubuque is Dell, which previously performed an IT audit and has been involved in various tech upgrades.
As can be expected in any major change, particularly one where jobs are at stake, this direction has sparked controversy. In several of the dozens of emails, letters and phone calls to the Telegraph Herald - virtually all anonymous and none on the record - we learned that IT employees were required to sign what they describe as a gag order.
They cite a document dated Sept. 22, 2011 - on or about the date Jim Puls departed his job as director of technology. The document outlines matters including expectations regarding supervision of the department and reporting relationships; questions or concerns regarding time off or attendance issues; and communication.
The document also states that IT employees should "remain professional and not discuss or make any speculations regarding these changes" and that failure to comply "may result in discipline such as suspension or termination."
Now, does that instruction apply to the current issue of outsourcing? Those speaking up for IT employees think it does. Superintendent Larie Godinez said the document was intended to detail lines of communication and expectations and was drafted long before outsourcing became a serious consideration.
This represents an opportunity for administration to clarify whether the document of six months ago applies to the outsourcing issue. Why not hear and address the objections publicly - acknowledging where there have been rough patches in recent work with contractors - rather than pushing the complaints underground, where they are mixed with rumor, personal attack and hyperbole?
Further, it does not appear to be a full and fair debate if employees feel gagged while district representatives give their side and, as some contend, degrade current IT staffers. (Note, too, that all displaced current employees will be invited to apply for jobs with the contractor. That is more consideration than many laid-off workers receive.)
As this process proceeds, district officials should invite employee feedback, contrary as it might be. The primary focus, however, should not be whether the current IT staff is happy. Rather, it must be on the long-term benefits of establishing a technology partnership to fulfill the district's No. 1 responsibility, providing high-quality education for its students.
Editorials reflect the consensus of the TH Editorial Board.
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