Less with Less

I don’t complain about money.

Give me the resources that are allocated for technology, and I’ll do as much as I can with them. If you give me $100 per student, per year, I’ll put it to good use. If you give me $10, I’ll do what I can with it to provide useful resources.

It’s well above my pay grade to decide that technology needs more funding at the expense of educational assistants, or that we can lay off a playground aide in order to update a computer lab. I don’t decide that having a Smart Board in every classroom is worth a 2% increase in class sizes. Thankfully, I don’t have to make the call between providing adaptive services to multi-handicapped students and providing opportunities for advanced placement students. I just provide best information I can to the administrative leadership, and let them make the decisions about how resources are to be allocated. Then, I do the best that I can with the resources I have.

I don’t complain about money.

For the most part, this has worked. We’re not the most technologically innovative school in the world city, but the edtech decisions we’ve made have generally been good ones. We don’t throw money at technology problems. We use innovative solutions to save money, and do a remarkable job of providing a wealth of services for a relatively low cost. Our technology support generally exceeds expectations. And our users don’t seem to have that “us versus them” mentality when it comes to technology that many schools seem to struggle with.

Last week, the voters in our community rejected a proposed tax increase to fund the schools. Our schools derive about 70% of their operating money from local property taxes. These revenues only increase when the voters approve an increase, something they have not done since 2004. With increasing costs of salaries, health benefits, supplies, maintenance, and utilities, it becomes very difficult to make ends meet.

Traditionally, our school district has had to ask the voters for new money three times for it to be approved. Each time a measure is defeated, the district reduces expenses by making cuts, and then tries again. Once the levy is approved, some programs are typically reinstated. In an attempt to break that cycle, the district made cuts before asking for money in 2009. A second round of cuts followed the 2009 levy defeat, and a third round of cuts followed the 2010 failure. Now with a failure in 2011, a fouth round of cuts is imminent. When combined with the governor’s plan to reduce funding for public schools, the result is a school district with fewer resources and higher costs.

I don’t complain about money.

It’s not up to me to decide the funding level for the schools. Give us the resources that you think are appropriate. And we will provide the highest possible educational value for those resources.

Throughout this process, we’ve been trying to increase our efficiency, trim the fat, tighten the belt. But the truth is that there wasn’t much fat to begin with. And now that we’re in the fourth round of cuts, it can’t be about doing more with less anymore.  We’ve reached a turning point. We need to do less with less.

Less with less means that there are some things that we used to do — services that we provided, programs that we offered, beneficial components to our educational programs — that we’re not going to be able to do anymore. We’re not talking about extracurricular activities. We’re not talking about busing or field trips or guest speakers. We’re not talking about an extra student or two in each class. We’re talking about academic programs. We’re talking about Advanced Placement courses and gifted education and special education services.  We’re talking about less time spent teaching science. We’re talking about a measurable decline in the quality of the services we’re able to provide.

For technology, I’m not sure what that’s going to mean yet. It will likely mean an extension of expected computer life from six to seven years. It will probably mean increased use of quotas for network storage and printing. It will almost certainly mean a decline in the response time for technology problems. But most of all, it’s going to mean an end to new programs. We have to stop putting things on the plate, and start taking some things off.

It’s not a pleasant time. But it’s time to stop trying to do more with less. We need to do less with less.

Photo credit: Alin S. on Flickr.

 

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Author: John Schinker

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1 thought on “Less with Less”

  1. The problem is, many of our own staff don’t get it. They are continuing on “business as usual”, even though we will have 35 less people next school year. I am losing my help and I had a teacher ask me who is going to replace him. An administrator asked me for quotes for a high-end Mac laptop or iMac. I would love to have a new computer, but I am not putting my “wants” ahead of our teacher’s “needs”. Although next year, I will not be able to meet everyone’s needs. There is one word they will need to add to their vocabulary and get used to hearing. The word is “no”.

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