Farmington Schools considers County ISD tech contract

Farmington Public Schools trustees are considering the expansion of an information technology (IT) agreement with Oakland Schools that some teachers and parents say will negatively impact the district.

Superintendent Dr. Bob Herrera explained during an April 21 board meeting that the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) was initially signed in December 2017, following a Plante Moran audit of the district’s technology department.

“Plante Moran identified systemic needs with infrastructure and made a recommendation to central office staff that they may want to consider engaging in a conversation with Oakland Schools,” Herrera said.

Then in 2017, the district faced a $650,000 expense as data storage reached capacity. Oakland Schools offered a proposal for services of $190,000, “which would have been a significant savings to the district,” Herrera said.

While the intent of the agreement was to fully transition IT services to Oakland Schools in 2018, that move was not made before the June 2019 departure of former Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch.

Herrera said he learned of the contract as the district transitioned its phone system last fall. He said in addition to informing trustees, he did his own informal audit of the district’s IT department and reviewed the Oakland Schools agreement.

Staff, parents oppose

The agreement, he said, would increased the district’s capacity, increase efficiencies, and could result in additional cost savings from reduction of other consulting services.

However, it would also require the district’s 11 IT staff members to reapply for their jobs, with no guarantee of employment. That, and the perceived loss of personalized service, rankles some staff members and residents.

Comments read during the meeting focused on the personalized and prompt service provided by in-house staff.

Farmington Hills resident Barry Nofzinger said he was “disappointed” by the timing of the contract, considering the COVID-19 crisis.

“When you consider the situation we are currently in, I am just stunned that anyone would consider this a good decision now,” he wrote, citing a lack of input from teachers, students, and parents.

“Having our own IT support unique to our district ensures we will have people who are familiar with our needs and how to serve them,” Kristin Ketzler commented. “Most of our IT folks have been with the district for many years, so they understand older technology.”

Natalie Richmond, who has three children in Farmington schools and works for the district, was among those who said outsourcing janitorial services has not worked well, with high turnover and reduced services.

Richmond also shared how the district’s IT personnel helped her 15-year-old son, who has Asperger syndrome, with a school project.

“Four members of the IT staff came out to consult with him. They graciously responded to all of his emails when he had questions,” she commented. “For the first time in his school career, he felt empowered, capable and confident. The one-on-one attention given to him by the department gave him one of the highlights of his experience at FPS.”

On-site, service desk support

Representing Oakland Schools, Paul Spoor, Executive Director of Technology Services, and Ryan Velzy, Director of Technology Operations, said the agreement will put “boots on the ground” IT support in the district, as well as the Intermediate School District (ISD) service desk and back-end support.

“This system brings expertise to any initiative that we look at trying to implement,” said Spoor, who previously worked for a school district. “As a local technology director, I couldn’t envision doing things the way this team has.”

He added that an on-site support staff will always be present in the district, working hand in hand with the teachers, “but there is an entire organization of resource people behind that who are doing some of the heavy lifting in order to keep those on-site people in the buildings and working at that level.”

Spoor said each of 12 contracted districts has assigned support personnel, and technicians who work in the district will be part of the Farmington Public Schools staff. One of the ISD’s core principles is maintaining the identity of each school district, he said.

In addition to email and phone calls, staff can reach out to Oakland Schools IT staff through support chat.

Contracting with Oakland Schools would save the district almost $100,000, with additional savings expected with a review of existing technology contracts.

“There are eoncomices of scale,” Spoor said, “but to be honest with you, this is not about saving money. The savings is a byproduct of being part of consortiums and groups. We get the attention of potential vendors.”

Hiring is a ‘sensitive question’

Board secretary Angie Smith asked whether current Farmington staff would be hired.

Calling that a “sensitive question,” Velzy said Oakland Schools staff who previously worked for school districts “are some of the brightest and best we have on our teams.“

“I believe there is an excellent chance through the process that people who are servicing Farmington will continue to serve Farmington,” he said.

“The last thing we want is people out of jobs right now,” said trustee Zach Rich, who asked about contract timing.

Velzy said while the plan was to shift around July 1, the start of the fiscal year, the document is fluid and could be adjusted.

Trustee Richard Mukamal noted public comments about staff getting tech help within minutes and asked whether the ISD could provide the same.

“Not only are all of those resources available… we also have 18 more staff members on a service desk that are fielding calls,” Spoor said. “Technically, in this remote world environment, resources are greater.”

Trustee Terri Weems asked whether the contract could be tailored to just fill in gaps in the district’s IT department.

Velzy said Oakland Schools doesn’t do “a la carte” services. The contract was designed as an “on-ramping” service, at a time of crisis for the district.

The ISD has also implemented systems for the district without staffing, he said, “which was fine with us, because we knew that Farmington could benefit from the services. We knew that Farmington would be a good partner.”

Not a perfect time

Herrera said that abandoning the contract would have cost implications that would be difficult to estimate, given that the position of technology director is currently open. Also, Oakland Schools has created and funded positions and provided services, waiting for the contract to engage.

“I didn’t find any reason not to honor the agreement,” he said.

Board president Pam Green said the contract was not unexpected; Herrera informed trustees about it last fall, and they expected a May/June discussion.

“We understand that this isn’t coming out at a perfect time, but we also need to move forward for our students,” she said.

Trustees will discuss the contract again before voting on it at a future meeting.

Watch the full April 21 electronic board meeting at farmington.vod.castus.tv/vod.

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