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Beline Obeid

District receives alternative proposal


March 13, 2014
A group of residents has authored and presented an alternative to a bond for funding technology in the Grosse Pointe Public School System.

Led by former board of education member Brendan Walsh, the group includes members of Residents for Responsible Spending, the organized opposition to the 10-year, $50.2 million bond proposal on the ballot Feb. 25.

The bond issue was soundly defeated at the polls.

The new proposal lays out a plan that includes staying within the boundaries of the budget. Walsh said the information should be looked at as an outline to fine tune, not a specific plan.

Walsh based his plan on a study presented by Plante Moran in March 2012, the Basso/Wright Hunter/Ehresman study pre-proposal and the district's financial reports.

Oaktree Place
The 6-page missive calls for identifying $8.6 million in general fund budget capacity over the next four years, starting with this year's July budget through June 2018 and using the sinking fund to complete the necessary WiFi expansion in all district buildings. It also puts the $83 per pupil increase proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder into the mix, earmarking the funds for technology. It also asks for a four-year pledge of $1.5 million by the Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education.

The report includes the suggestion to lease "some combinations of PCs, laptops, tablets and/or Chromebooks over a four year period to give all staff members the devices they need while enabling a 2:1 ratio of student to a computing device of some type."

It also includes funding key infrastructure upgrades, including network switches and routers, telephone system, servers and storage, and completing the WiFi build-out needed in all buildings.

Among the points made in the report, Walsh said:

Priority has to be given to areas of most pressing need. The combination of the Plante Moran study, the Tech Bond RFQ and the most frequent bond advocate arguments.

The number of devices is reduced relative to the February bond proposal, but this becomes a more manageable number. With leasing now an option, the district can procure equipment, maintain device/technology flexibility, and avoid financing equipment beyond its useful life.

The number of devices is also lower than the bond proposal because there would not be a refresh within the four year budget view, but the budget would exist in the ensuing four years to refresh this fleet of devices with more current technology.

One scenario to consider: $3.2 million would fund a combination of 1,400 PCs, 1,300 tablets, 2,000 Chromebooks (a total of 4,700 devices) and leave more than $350,000 for management software. That is a ratio of two students per device.

While the figures in the proposal for General and Sinking Fund spending plans correlate to the defeated tech bond, the numbers are budgetary only. As the technology plan is honed, these figures should be updated to reflect more accurate cost estimates.

Addressing numbers to support the suggested framework, Walsh pointed to:

The Snyder administration has already proposed a Foundation Allowance increase for Michigan public schools including $83 more per pupil in GPPSS.

Last year the school aid budget was signed by the governor on June 13. Signs look favorable for Gov. Snyder to get what he has proposed. The school aid fund budget should be complete in advance of GPPSS 2014-15 budget approval and thus this framework could be adopted.

The last energy bond payment of $675,000 annually will be made in May 2015. Three of the last four years could repurpose that expense to technology investment.

The same longtime 10 percent target remains in effect and achievable.

The district's variable cost (nonhuman resources) is $12.5 million annually. Examples include

Legal fees at $400,000 annually when, in the past, they've been as low as $200,000. We spend $350,000 on licensed software, much of it with Microsoft.

Exploring managed services and cloud options such as Google Apps for Education could yield tremendous cost and efficiency gains. A 5 percent reduction in this spending is about $625,000 annually. Legal fee and software licensing costs reduction alone could account for half of that. This should not be a hard target.

Given the broad base of support for technology funding, a concerted capital campaign should be developed by the district that allows for the engagement, generosity and capacity of the community to augment this plan. Ideally it would be managed at the district, not building level, so that equity can be maintained. Also, grant and other funding options could be explored to meet this objective.

If the economics of this plan held, the district could fund a senior technology leader if they do not believe the current personnel meet the Plante Moran suggestion.

As for the sinking fund, obviously the WiFi component is critical and pending more detailed technical review, perhaps it is more critical than some of the other elements proposed here to be funded out of the general fund. Also recall that WiFi can be incrementally achieved. Again, more discussion and analysis is needed. With the election in November, this would need to be sequenced appropriately.

Mickey Shield, who had input on the proposal as a member of Residents for Responsible Spending, said it's important the board looks at the proposal and moves toward a resolution soon.

"It needs to be something the community understands and will support," Shield said. "It also needs to have the support of the full board and by all the teachers. That wasn't the case in February."

The board and administration have been presented Walsh's proposal. More details, along with their reaction, will be in next week's Grosse Pointe News.

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