Tech Support

Critical Care

Pros and cons of IT outsourcing

Michelle Healy

The signs were there. It was time for Missouri’s Pierce City R-VI School District to take the leap and upgrade its tech services.

First, the district’s technology director announced plans to retire, recalls Russ Moreland, superintendent of the 700-student district in Lawrence County, located in the southwest region of the state.

“Being a small, rural district, it’s really, really hard to find someone who can manage the network and understand the nuances of the network, as well as having the people skills to deal with students and teachers at an affordable rate,” Moreland says. “We can find somebody, but the question becomes, what do we have to get rid of to get and retain that person?”

At the same time, the Ozarks school community was in the initial stages of rolling out personal learning devices to many of its students. “We didn’t have a device for every student yet, but knew we were going in that direction and needed to increase our infrastructure and support if we were going to do that,” Moreland says.

The need for an education-focused partner to help guide the district’s IT growth, promptly handle technology requests and repairs, advise on infrastructure and network security, and do it at an affordable price led Moreland and his outgoing technology director to research their options.

After compiling the offerings from various vendors on a spreadsheet, they were convinced, “We really wanted as close to turnkey as you can have,” Moreland says. “We felt if this is something we’re going to do, we wanted to get the best support we could get for our technology so it functions properly in the classroom.”


Outsourcing technology services is not new. Depending on their size, location, and finances, districts have been contracting with outside vendors for IT support for more than a decade. Florida’s 30,000-student Okaloosa County School District signed its first technology outsourcing contract 14 years ago. It signed its most recent, a five-year agreement, in 2015.

Working with an outside vendor for personal-computer-related technology has been a boon for the district given the staffing challenges it faces in a highly competitive tech market. Okaloosa is located near military bases and defense and aerospace companies.

“We were having trouble keeping good people, and, as a result, we were having difficulty keeping technology up and running,” says Eric Mitchell, director of management information systems and instructional technology for the district.

Outsourcing eliminated the retention problem, which helped improve service, Mitchell says. The district’s contract with the company Telaforce guarantees that 85 percent of all service calls to help desk technicians will be resolved with the first call. In fact, 98 percent of service calls are resolved on the first call either over the phone or by a technician “remoting in” to the computer, he says.

In a concept known as “seat management,” Okaloosa also leases student, administrative, and teacher computers, along with software, peripherals, and other associated supports—known collectively as seats.

Because of Florida state rules, the district can use capital funding, when available, for seat management, “which means it’s not coming out of general revenue funds,” Mitchell explains. “That helped us a lot” when the program was first rolled out.

Also as part of the program, every computer is replaced every three years with a new device “so there are no obsolete computers” in the district, he adds.

Pennsylvania’s Crawford Central School District had a technology vendor in place when Thomas Washington was hired as superintendent in 2015. The contract with Questeq was renewed last year because the arrangement “offers that extra level of technical experience” that the district otherwise doesn’t have, Washington says.

Crawford Central leaves “the education piece” to the district’s education and instructional specialists. They are best qualified to integrate the technology into the curriculum and “engage students to increase learning,” Washington says.


Ann Flynn, NSBA’s director of education innovation, notes that as education budgets have tightened, educational service agencies in several states have added technology services to the slate of operational and instructional services they offer their districts and schools.

Oakland Schools Intermediate Service District, a K-12 regional service agency serving Oakland County, Michigan, allows local school districts to contract for technology services and centralizes many technical support personnel and equipment needs.

“Instead of outsourcing, we call it insourcing,” says Tammy Evans, assistant superintendent for shared services and chief information officer.

Oakland’s shared services division offers districts a centralized service desk and engineering division that allows participants to share network engineers, network administration, security, and application support.

A little over half of the county’s 28 school districts currently use the services and participation is growing, Evans says. This technology model has produced “multimillion-dollar savings and that’s because as we’ve built the system, we’ve gone to common platforms” that have “given us all kinds of advantages with procurement, support structures, and technologists really being able to dive into solutions,” she says. 

The nonprofit K12 Federation is another effort focused on multi-district, shared technology services. It is an outgrowth of IlliniCloud, a technology cooperative founded in 2007 to help school districts access affordable physical and cloud storage services. Today, some 500 operators or member districts nationally collaborate on and share services and solutions related to identity management, disaster recovery, cybersecurity, and other issues, says Jim Peterson, chief technology officer for Bloomington Public Schools District 87 in Illinois.

Increased efficiencies for districts through pooled resources is a key goal for k12itc, says Brad Sandt, founder of the company.

As a former school technology chief and “customer of many technology consultants and providers,” Sandt says too often there was insufficient focus on the unique needs and pressures faced by K-12 districts. In addition to specific software application requirements and the substantial number of devices used, schools “have user patterns unlike any other businesses.”

In a traditional business environment, for example, one office worker uses a device and it’s their machine all the time. In a school environment, the devices could be in a lab or part of a mobile cart of tablets that six or seven different students use in a day and another set of kids use another day. “And the way you support that is completely different,” he says.


The growing recognition within the K-12 community about computer breeches, malware viruses, ransomware, and other cyberthreats, was another reason that Moreland in Pierce City felt that outsourcing was a smart move for the district, even with most of the daily technology requests handled remotely.

“I have a lot more confidence in them staying on top of this than if we were trying to do it ourselves,” he says. “This is what they do and they do it every day. I think we’ve strengthened our security by utilizing their services.”

With its contractor, Crawford Central re-examined and upgraded its cyber security—ensuring content filters were in place, strengthening passwords, installing strong antivirus protection, educating staff on phishing scams. “We’ve taken a great deal of measures to get our employees to realize that these threats are very real. That was first and foremost,” Washington says.

For added protection, the 3,800-student district purchased an insurance policy against data theft. “It’s something school districts have to look at now,” the superintendent says.


Pennsylvania’s Wilmington-Area School District got assistance from its IT vendor not only with selecting hardware and software but with choosing security cameras and automatic door locks, as well as applying for federal E-rate subsidies to help pay for its telecommunications and information services.

Technology issues are so great today, that it helps to have that expertise available, “to reach the levels you need to really change education,” says Jeffrey Matty, superintendent of the 1,200-student school system.

As with any third-party vendor relationship, it’s best when onsite IT providers are integrated into the culture of the district, recommends Washington. “You want them to feel like they are a part of your team. Then they will provide better service.”

That attitude has long been championed in Okaloosa where all technicians who work on the help desk projects, “per contract design,” are local and reside within the county, Mitchell says. “A lot of the employees on the contract are people who really want this to be successful because it’s their kids in these schools too.”

Michelle Healy ( is associate editor of American School Board Journal.

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