OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Public school districts across Oklahoma could potentially save millions of dollars each year by consolidating their computer systems and services, Gov. Mary Fallin's technology chief told a House panel on Thursday.
Oklahoma's Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit unveiled details of the governor's "Open Range" plan before the House Government Modernization Committee. Under the voluntary program, school districts could consolidate their information technology, or IT systems, and share services with the state.
By allowing the state to negotiate large-scale contracts with software and hardware vendors and provide IT services to districts, Pettit said, schools could save millions of dollars and free up teachers and support personnel, especially in smaller districts, who are currently serving as IT employees. Even in larger districts, Pettit said IT workers often serve as a "jack-of-all-trades" rather than specializing in one specific area.
"We have a lot of folks who are IT generalists out there. They take care of the servers. They take care of the security. They take care of the network. They do the end-user support. They do everything. When we consolidate an agency and we transform their IT, these people go from being generalists to being specialists," Pettit said. "When I have people that are specialists doing it, not only do they do a better job, but it takes fewer of them to support the entire group. So I'm able to get efficiencies."
A similar effort to consolidate the IT services of state agencies that was launched in recent years already has helped realize annual savings of more than $40 million, Pettit said.
Much of those savings were realized through a reduction in the number of state IT employees. According to Pettit's most recent quarterly report to the Legislature, the number of state IT workers was cut from 1,215 in 2009 to 974 last year, and most of those have been consolidated into the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Although overall cost savings to individual districts haven't been projected, Pettit said an analysis of consolidating all the computerized student-information systems that various districts use would save districts about $8.3 million annually. Currently, districts are paying between $4 and $25 per licensed user for these systems.
"That's an enormous range of prices for the same services," he said.
But Rep. Richard Morrissette, a member of the committee, questioned whether Pettit's projected savings, both potential savings to school districts and actual savings to state agencies, were overinflated.
"It's smoke and mirrors," said Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. "I think they're making guesses, and I don't believe it."
Morrissette said that if Republican leaders were really concerned about saving money, they should undertake efforts to begin consolidating the administration and high-paid superintendents at the more than 520 public school districts in the state.
"Clearly, with our population, that's where we should start," he said. "Not playing these Mickey Mouse games with these numbers about electronic savings."
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Jason Murphey, said he's optimistic about the potential savings to schools.
"It only makes sense that school districts, especially those smaller ones that just can't leverage their budget to drive down costs, would potentially be able to benefit from using that resource," said Murphey, R-Guthrie.
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy