Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools: Smarter, Not Harder

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education meets tonight at 5:30 (closed session at the Chapel Hill Town Hall) to discuss, among other things, areas for budget reduction.

Though I dislike making judgements on topics with which I'm not familiar, I must admit that my first glance through the list of reductions leaves me with mixed feelings.  I believe them off-base with certain items, such as reductions in professional development, curriculum development stipends, and new-teacher signing bonuses. (see PDF below-pages 5 and 8)  However, I believe them on-target in other reduction avenues, including looking at the K12 Insight online surveys and reducing the Superintendent's meeting refreshments.

The reductions in the IT department stand out as a method that does not reduce anything except the cost.  The proposal suggests using open-source/Free software for school IT infrastructure wherever possible.  From PDF-page 12:

Open Source / Web 2.0 cost avoidance.  There is a movement supporting the use of open source and web 2.0 applications in K-12 education.  The convergence of web technologies and the growth of new virtualization solutions makes this an exciting time to manage a computing enterprise.  In 2006 the district made the decision to stop purchasing new and upgraded licenses for Microsoft Office for teacher and student computers.  The cost to upgrade all computers to the latest version of MS Office is $297,000.  We do not plan to upgrade to this product across the district.  Our current focus is to identify open source or Web 2.0 solutions to replace costly proprietary software.  This cost was most recently avoided by installing the free, open source product called "Open Office" at Carrboro High School, on all High School teacher laptops, and at Morris Grove.  At $50 per workstation for MS Office, this saved the district over $17,000.  During the past few years the district has not purchased much software.  We are requesting that our customers use free, web 2.0 products such as iTunes, Audacity, Tuxpaint, Photostory, and Google Sketch-up.  This is a trend that is embraced by most schools.  Current: There is a minimal software budget at the district and within schools.  In most cases, this has been transferred to support on-line resources or hardware needs.  Reduction: None.

This is a win-win situation.  The new software provides all the capabilities of the current software, so the schools get the functionality they need at a fraction of the price.  In short, a great example of working smarter, not harder.



The CHCCS Board has done a good job of making reasonable cuts in an extremely difficult budgetary environment. I am a part of my local School Improvement Team and there were some very difficuly decisions that had to be made by leaders at all levels of the school system.The Board and the CHCCS should be credited for making tough choices that prioritized basic instruction. Our district's quality school system management and community support has left us in a far better position than some of our neighbors. 

The budget is not closed by any stretch -- at the state level, at the county level, nor at the schools level.  Maybe they have some good ideas so far, but until we see how bad it gets from the county in particular (given the push from folks about not raising taxes), they're not done and neither are the cuts.


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