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Sunday, July 25, 2010
DoE spends $50M for free software
By Selected News Articles @ 12:00 PM :: 10674 Views :: Education K-12, Ethics


Editor's Note: The Star-Advertiser July 24 front page article touts the Hawaii DoE's "Technological Achievement" enthusing, "Despite tight budgets, many public schools are making it a priority to bring more cutting-edge technology into classrooms -- from interactive, touch-screen whiteboards to laptops and iPads ...." 

In paragraph eight SA readers discover the DoE's plan to buy 106,000 more computers.  At $1000 each, counting software, peripherals, and installation, this would be a projected expense of $106M.  So this is an excellent time to take a look at how computer and software procurement is done in the DoE and how much waste and cronyism is included in the cost. 

The akamai reader will note that almost none of these expenses are allocated to "central administration"--something to keep in mind next time the DoE claims not to be "top heavy."

by Scott Belford (Originally posted March 2, 2010)

The most pervasive technology cost for the Hawaii State Department of Education (DoE) is software licenses. Many of these are purchased in spite of the availability of better quality "open source" alternatives available from Google and other suppliers free of charge.

Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office software licenses average $25 and $55 per computer, respectively. Lotus Notes runs $26. By replacing these with free Google Apps for Education, the DoE could save $106 per computer. 

What is the total expense for the DoE to license the right to use Microsoft Office, Apple's OSX, and Microsoft's Windows/XP/Vista for its computers?  Estimates have this in excess of $25 million. Is it legal to purchase software or hardware at this rate if a lower expense alternative exists -- without an official Request for Proposal or formal justification for the expense?

The DoE's Electronic Student Information System is one of the greatest procurement debacles of the last decade.  What was supposed to provide a single directory of parent-accessible student information turned into justification to purchase new IBM hardware for each teacher.  In classic bait and switch tactics, teachers were sold one version but the DoE only licenses limited features.  Should you take it upon yourself to get the honest and unthreatened opinion of eSIS from the people supporting it and who had their Macs and MacSchools SIS replaced with new IBM hardware and eSIS, you will find yourself with more questions than answers.  To date our vendor requires a version of Java that Sun no longer protects against security breaches and violations thus jeopardizing the data integrity of the entire DoE.

The DoE has turned to the Washington D.C. based Advanced Institute for Research to design our online Hawaii State Assessment test. DoE has paid to develop a "secure" web browser for Tech Coordinators to install on every testing computer.  Free and secure browsers already exist, yet we are paying to develop our own web browser for only one years' use.  DoE Tech Coordinators are investing countless hours doing the testing and debugging that we have paid a mainland vendor for.  The HSA browser will not support the most common screen size in the DOE - the Netbook, thus requiring the purchase of new hardware at a time when our schools have little.

In 2009 Enchanted Lake Elementary disposed of an entire, fully functional computer lab and bought a new one.  The eWaste was taken away by Apple.  This act deprived Hawaii of 30 usable computes, and it cost the taxpayers well over $30,000.  There are some schools that have 160 unused Netbooks sitting in a closet, and there are other schools hoping to have the funds to buy the computers required for HSA.

Special Education teachers access the eCSSS web portal--supposedly the epitome of cross-platform standardization--yet we allow a vendor to require an insecure, non-standard web browser of our SPED teachers.  Why are some DOE employees using an insecure browser for eCSSS? Why are we paying to develop a secure browser for HSA? 

Use of free email, calendaring, messaging, documents, and more as part of the Google Apps for Education suite could save the DoE $50 million.  Google made this offer to the DOE and to the University of Hawaii in March of 2009.  While some schools have voluntarily adopted this service, the DoE and the University of Hawaii have not.

This means Tech Coordinators in each school spend $10,000 on a Sun server to host the email application the DoE licenses from IBM.  Meanwhile, both the DoE and the University of Hawaii seek taxpayer dollars to house and license the server farms, euphemistically called 'the cloud', to host the same email applications that schools are buying servers for.  This epitomizes procurement abuse.

Why is the DOE paying to build, license, and support a server farm to house the Lotus Notes suite while asking the schools to buy their own servers, too?

Why do Charter Schools have to pay the DOE $200 per Lotus Notes seat above their allotted amount when Google has offered this for free? Why are schools waiting weeks, and even months, to get a Lotus Notes email account when the same critical services are available now from Google?

Why are we asking taxpayers to consider taxing bottles or raiding a rainy day fund when Google just offered us $50 million?

Software is not the DoE's only wasteful Statewide license purchase. Instead of recording seminars given by the DoE's numerous in-house experts, untold dollars are being sent to the mainland School Improvement Network (SIN) to license a collection of professional development videos known as PD360. (See SIN price list) When in the shortened school year are educators supposed to find time to watch these videos? How much will this license cost to renew next year?

Every school in the DoE has a Nortel Meridian PBX and phone system single-sourced from Hawaiian Tel.  Better priced and more robust VOIP, Voice over IP, solutions exist that provide evolutionary benefits to parents, PTA groups, students, and faculty.

Of course, this would require better bandwidth management, but due to single-sourcing of solutions across all schools, certain times of the school year it becomes nearly impossible to access the web-based services our DoE is purchasing. When decisions are made to procure software and hardware requiring bandwidth, who coordinates the strategic impact on the limited broadband connection at each school?

The DoE is paying millions of dollars to contractors for software when equal or superior alternatives are available elsewhere at lower cost--often free of charge. This wasteful spending is the direct result of the cozy, revolving door relationship between the contractors and the DoE officials who direct business their way.


Scott Belford directs the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation



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