Maryland District Evaluates a Special-Education Management System's Impact on Its Bottom Line

Article excerpt

Charles County Public Schools in La Plata, Md.,is recognized nationally as a leader in technology use. However, our special-education management program was problematic, with homegrown software and piles of paperwork still being completed by hand. The staff and administrative costs for such an outdated and inefficient system were high and would only continue to get worse. As our student population increased, and compliance with state and federal laws grew more complex, it became increasingly difficult to manage our program without a current technology system that specifically addressed the needs of managing special populations.

When we launched our search for a new special-education management system, we carefully considered how this new technology would impact our bottom line--both at the time of purchase and in the future. What would be the total cost of ownership (TCO)? Would we see a return on investment (ROI)? Taking this "business" approach to the search for, and evaluation of, a new technology system was intensive and time-consuming. However, we believe the time and energy invested up front saved time and money in the long run, as well as eliminated many headaches.

From the outset, it is critical to build a search team with representatives from every department who will be involved in the system's purchase and implementation. We knew if we did not create ownership and support from the ground up, the system simply would not work. So, we spent months reviewing and analyzing our needs and brainstorming what we wanted in a new system. With the support of our procurement office, we issued a request for proposals with detailed system specifications. After reviewing several proposals, we invited five vendors to meet with us and demonstrate their products.We then developed guidelines to ensure each vendor and product was evaluated according to the same criteria, while giving ourselves the flexibility to ask questions during each presentation.

TCO & ROI Considerations

Since TCO was a key consideration, we analyzed direct and indirect costs in hardware, software, technical support and staff development for each system. Fortunately, we did not have to consider costs for building modifications, as our district was recently retrofitted with a converged network where data, voice and video run over the same infrastructure. While assessing TCO created more work during the evaluation process, the information was extremely valuable. And because we learned up front how much it would cost to purchase and implement the new system, we have had no surprises or hidden costs to date.

Another key consideration was the ROI. We viewed our purchase as an investment rather than an expense, which would pay for itself in several ways. The following are a few examples of how the system provides a financial return through savings and increased funding:

Reduced paperwork burden. We spend a significant amount of time on paperwork and administrative duties related to special-education management. By eliminating redundant data entry and paperwork, we can increase the time teachers spend working with students. …