May 21 2020

CoSN2020: Why School Tech and Business Leaders Should Be Partners

By working closely together, administrators can improve fiscal efficiency and produce related benefits for the entire district.

The nation’s K–12 schools are bracing for budget cuts resulting from the global economic downturn. And while it’s always important to work across departments, a district IT leader’s relationship with one particular administrator — the school business officer — could make a difference in the current environment.

“When it really comes down to it, without the synergy between CTOs and school business officials, none of our funding efforts will be successful,” Frankie Jackson, director of strategic initiatives for Texas K–12 CTO Council, said during CoSN2020, the Consortium for School Networking’s virtual annual conference.

Jackson, who is also a former CTO, and Keith Bockwoldt, CIO for Hinsdale High School District 86 in Illinois, presented recommendations and examples of how CTOs and SBOs can support each other.

The relationship between CTOs and SBOs, Jackson said, “can really make or break technology initiatives.”

Without the relationship, she said, “we just can’t get as much done.”

School business officials are tasked with ensuring available resources for educating students are used effectively, according to the Association of School Business Officials International.

CTOs’ roles also involve business management and strategic planning, according to CoSN.

By breaking down silos between the district business and IT offices, districts see benefits of increased staff productivity, which has a ripple effect on broader district operations, according to the presentation. There are numerous opportunities for CTOs and SBOs to work together in a way that not only makes their respective jobs easier but also improves the district overall.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how a streamlined technology department can save districts money and support success.

The Importance of Building Trust, Communicating and Connecting

Bockwoldt and Jackson stressed the importance of trust, communication and connection — critical elements of any relationship.

“Once you have that trust and you have that relationship, you can show the value of what your department is doing,” Bockwoldt said.

Here are more suggestions from Jackson and Bockwoldt:

  • Develop infrastructure replacement plans: Bockwoldt took on his current role in January 2019 and developed a plan for his district. “And now I know from year to year, and the SBO knows from year to year, what we expect as far as budget” on a three-, four- and five-year cycle, he said. This sort of planning is also a good way to build trust, he said.
  • Get a seat at the table for important discussions: “Talk to your superintendent about being at the table because it makes a big difference,” Bockwoldt said. Be involved in talks about improving systems with technology for students and teachers as well as other areas of district operations, such as transportation and food service.
  • Join an SBO organization and attend its conferences: “It’s one small thing you can do to help develop that trust and build that relationship,” Jackson said. She joined one such organization in Texas early in her career and took on leadership responsibilities. It helps with building an understanding of the SBO’s job and related struggles.
  • Look for opportunities to audit, improving efficiency: In Hinsdale, after going through bills and talking with the district’s telephone service provider, Bockwoldt identified between $60,000 and $70,000 in unnecessary telecommunications costs, such as phone lines the district wasn’t using but was paying for each month. After looking further, through software contracts and other spending, Bockwoldt was able to save the district more than $180,000.

“Open up those conversations, create the relationships within your whole cabinet,” Bockwoldt said, “and you’re really going to be successful.”

EdTech is covering CoSN2020: A Breakthrough Virtual Experience, so keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing coverage. Follow @EdTech_K12 on Twitter for live updates and join the conversation using #CoSN2020.

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