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Monday
Apr032017

Ethical budgeting, security, and playing the odds

There is only so much money in a school budget. David Lewis calls the public budget picture a “zero sum game,” and states that decision makers can’t give programs money they themselves don’t have. (Lewis, 1991) In tight financial times, I believe school districts with inadequate budgets should drop some programs totally rather than watch all programs become mediocre as a result of 10% cuts year after year. You may have to make a case for the media/technology program strong enough to take money from other departments. Prepare to make enemies. You had better sincerely believe that your program offers to children knowledge and skills and opportunities no other program in the school can. You’ll need a professional mission and the courage to do the right thing. Budgeting for Lean Mean Times, MultiMedia Schools Nov/Dec 1995

I have always seen budget-making as an exercise in ethical decision-making. As I stated in the article above, education budgets are usually zero-sum which means spending more in one area means spending less in another.

As I work on my district's technology budget for next year, I am acutely aware of some difficult choices that will need to be made. Our basic operation costs for things like salaries, Internet bandwidth, district-systems like the SIS and HR/Payroll, and equipment replacement keep creeping (or sometime surging) upward. We need take a closer look next year at our security and business continuity plans, spending dollars on both consulting services and perhaps on monitoring programs and increasing redundancy. But our tech budget is static.

So unhappily, the only source of those funds may be in "discretionary" areas such as student resources. Fewer learning materials, less student technology, fewer instructional technology specialists? Even if we can shift the dollars to the technology budget from other places in the general fund, that will mean someone else will get less - larger class sizes, older textbooks, fewer band instruments, etc.

I'm sure this realization is why my techie colleagues sometimes view me as a security "skeptic," openly questioning the need for some of the more costly protection and prevention efforts used by businesses. I openly ask: Does a school need the same level of data protection as a bank? Are we as susceptible to hacking as a business? Are the records we maintain as sensitive as those kept by a medical clinic or insurance company?

The real trick here is to figure out what can be considered an acceptable risk. Doing little or nothing is foolish since crashing networks don't serve anyone in the school, and students and families need to feel secure in the care we take protecting their data. Yet on the other end of the spectrum are hugely expensive and often times limiting and inconvenient policies, programs, and hardware that can decrease (but never eliminate) the downtime and security breaches.

Personally, I am happy to play a little bit longer odds on systems failures if it means getting more resources in the hands of students and teachers. And I can live with that ethical decision.

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