By Michael McNutt
Public school districts would save millions of dollars by hooking up with a state agency to consolidate information technology workers and share in services, Oklahoma's information technology czar told a legislative panel Thursday.
The state has high-speed data transmission lines across the state, which especially would help schools in rural areas where high-speed Internet service is spotty, Alex Pettit, the state's chief information officer, said.
The state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which has overseen the consolidation of information technology services in state agencies the past couple of years, also has staff in place to perform information technology-related duties that teachers, coaches and others in smaller districts are doing in addition to their regular school duties, Pettit said.
The strongest appeal is savings, Pettit told members of the House of Representatives Government Modernization Committee.
It would improve the services, and school districts would be able to provide them at a lower cost, he said.
Pettit estimated savings of about $8 million for schools by using one platform across the state just for student information services. School districts would pay for the individual cost of providing the service for each student. Pettit estimated the cost per student could be cut in half, from nearly $17 per student to $8 per student.
"Open Range' program
Gov. Mary Fallin announced Monday during her State of the State speech to legislators that she had asked Pettit, who also serves on her Cabinet, to develop and implement the "Open Range" program.
"This new program will be available to help schools begin their own IT consolidation efforts, improve their technology and free up more dollars in the process," she said.
By joining the state system, larger school districts could reduce their information technology staff and smaller districts could let teachers, coaches and others who now provide the services spend more time in the classroom, he said.
Pettit said the Office of Management and Enterprise Services has 17 full-time information technologists supporting the platform.
"We do this stuff every day," he said.
None of the state's 521 school districts would be forced to join the state system, Pettit said.
"This is completely voluntary," Pettit said.
He said after the meeting that cities, counties, water districts and conservation districts also are being invited to join the state's information technology system.
The information would remain the property of the governmental entity, Pettit said. The state in most cases would store the information.
Savings come by combining printing and computer desktop services, software program costs and sharing information technology staff -- the same way the state has saved money the past couple of years by upgrading and consolidating information technology services, Pettit said.
Pettit has streamlined information technology services for about 50 of the state's 132 agencies. He said state savings so far are about $42 million a year.
"The things that we've already accomplished we're extending those to school districts and to really any other governmental agency," Pettit said.
The same concept in combining state information technology services would be used in offering the services to school districts, he said.
School districts seem intrigued, Pettit said. Of 60 percent of the school districts that returned a survey, 92 percent expressed interest in the state partnership in managing student information services.
A technology advisory council has been formed, which includes representatives from several school districts, including Oklahoma City, Ponca City, Yukon, Putnam City and Catoosa.
Rep. Jason Murphey, chairman of the Government Modernization Committee, said extending the state's consolidation of information technology services to school districts and other governmental entities makes common sense. Murphey, R-Guthrie, said schools in his district like the concept.
"Some of the districts in my area aren't really large and so this will give them a new option that they may not have realized that they had before," he said.