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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Headless Chickens Come Home to Roost

It's not like people did not see this coming...but somehow, this issue recently dropped like a bomb on the residents of Austin Texas.

And stay with me here...this will get to the subject matter this blog works toward.

In the face of a 50 million + dollar budget shortfall, The Austin Independent School District Superintendent is recommending the layoff of 1017 teachers and varied staff.

This, according to the Superintendent, would free up 53 million dollars.

That's the problem when you have bean counters as your advisors.  As long as the dollar columns line up, the easiest solution should be the one deployed.  As long as the money is right, then the ends justify the means...and the added bodies to the unemployment lines.

I'm not saying that the Superintendent took this route...but if it looks like a duck...until there is clarification, then all theories are pliable.

First off, let's keep the politics out of this. I'm not going to let this degrade into a Republicans vs Democrats thing.

It runs deeper than that.  Much deeper.

This is a matter of short-sighted planning and ignorance on all sides.

I am a political layman.  I despise politics and all the infighting and ego that comes with it.  Naive?  Yes.  I am naive when placed in the political arena.  But there are times when common sense should wield sharp elbows and knock unnecessary players out of that space.

From the comments  -  "...While you may detest politics, they are still very much present in the equation...Do they once again raise property taxes and evoke the ire of every voter in that district or do they lay off a thousand employees whos stories will be forgotten in two weeks?" -  
Anonymous retired School District employee

In the first place, I would suggest that AISD live within their means.  The AISD headquarters now resides on a 30 million dollar piece of prime real estate on 6th Street.  Real estate that would be purchased quickly by commercial developers.  As of now, many Austin students attend classes in "temporary" buildings...prefabricated and aging "portable" buildings that should shame the administration of this school district.

My daughter, thankfully, is graduating high school this year.  I have personally attended parent-student meetings in these buildings.  Many of the ceilings are bowed, the doors have to be slammed in order to close and they are grossly inefficient from a heating and cooling standpoint.

I have an save money, why doesn't AISD move their headquarters into a series of these "portable" say, oh I don't know...East Austin?  The real estate costs there are low and they could save millions by doing so.  Sure, it would take a while to realize their savings...

While we're on the subject of planning ahead to save money...

 In 2006, I started a personal campaign to find out what AISD was spending in software.  Since I am a Free Software (Open Source) guy, it seemed to me that adopting an Open Source solution could at least help with lowering the overall operating costs.

Cue up the crickets chirping and lonely-blowing-wind sound effects.

After badgering enough people, by 2008, I finally got through to someone who was able to give me the answer and she would be happy to give me access to that information.

For a $2000.00 administration fee.


Yeah, really.

So I attended various PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) meetings and presented my ideas when I could.  There was a large amount of support within those meetings of at least exploring the idea, but that's where it died.

The magic sword that protected the disclosure of software expenditure costs turned out to be the vendor agreements AISD signed with Microsoft and other various software companies.  At least, that was what I was told and to be honest, I had neither the time or resources to pursue it further.

Filing for this data under the Freedom of Information Act of 1974 was impotent.  It seems our laws, the way they are currently written, gives the corporates protection...

Even if federal law says differently.

However, a seemingly disconnected event in 2008 was able to dislodge some of this information.  Maybe not as much as I wanted, but enough to sharpen the pencil and do a bit of cipherin'.

Many will remember the row that ensued after an AISD teacher admonished one of our HeliOS kids and myself for him bringing a laptop and Linux disks into her classroom.

And direct citation is needed.  I'm not going to link-bait my own story.  However, this not only went viral in hours, many online and dead tree newspapers picked it up as well.

It is within one of those that we can discern some important figures.

The AISD IT Director at that time defended their IT structure by saying that 1/3 of their computers ran software other than Windows.

"...and while the district uses Windows on 24,000 of its 36,000 computers, it uses Linux for many of its servers and open-source applications, such as Open Office, whenever possible."

OK, great...Linux is obviously the superior choice for server deployments, but if we were to dig deeper into that statement, how many of the OS choices are Linux?  I am guessing that the majority of them run Windows with some Open Source solutions installed therein.  The article does mention the use of Mac computers as well.  Oh, and those aren't expensive...

But Linux desktops?

I am guessing about 27...maybe....but I am an optimist.

"When asked about the possibility of dumping Windows in favor of Linux, AISD technol­o­gy director Gray Salada said that in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, it simply isn't worth it. Windows comes preinstalled on most computers, he said, so there is little savings to be realized from removing it and incurring the costs of retraining teachers and the district's 12 engineers, who are already proficient in Windows, to support Linux."

And therein lies the problem within the Austin Independent School District.

Don't think long-term...and for Heaven's sake, don't extend the life of a good computer.  Buy new ones at all costs.

"Windows comes preinstalled on most computers..."

So I am guessing they are paying the Microsoft Tax on every computer refresh that comes along on the calendar?  Are these older machines being re-deployed within the system?  Again, I am guessing since no one will give me any specifics on these particular question-sets.

And if these machines are re-deployed, are they being upgraded to a newer Windows OS at taxpayer expense?

From The comments  -  "Ken, the administration listens to whatever compu-babble the head IT guy spews out. They will pay any amount of money necessary to keep things working and if the head guy says we need to spend X amount of dollars on MS licensing, then we spend it. He is never questioned nor does anyone care. As long as things are running smoothly on the surface, they will spend the money he says needs to be spent as long as they don't have to deal with it."
 - Anonymous currently employed IT specialist within a Texas school district

After all, I am simply a lowly taxpayer with a child in their system.  What right do I have to know as to how they are spending my money?

Time and time again, Linux and Free Software have provided The Enterprise, Governments and individuals amazing cost savings over the long term.

A recent conversation with Amazon tech support concerning our store account  revealed that most of the desktops used at that call center ran Suse Linux.  They made the switch a couple of years ago.  Amazon is thinking long-term.

But AISD isn't thinking long-term.

24K of those computers are running Windows.  Even at their licensing costs of maybe $50.00 per machine, how much money could they save?

The math is simple.  $1,200.000.00

That isn't taking into consideration the cost for support software like anti virus applications.   

How many teacher's positions could be saved by that alone?

Yeah, yeah...cost of training, cost of adaptation...

If this had been done in 2006, would it have made a difference today?

I am thinking so.  Just ask those in various Indiana School Districts.

"We have a million kids in the state of Indiana," he continued. "If we were to pay $100 for software on each machine, each year, that’s $100 million for software. That’s well beyond our ability. That’s why open source is so attractive. We can cut those costs down to $5 [on each computer] per year.".

So while AISD accountants may consider these savings a "drop in the bucket", they don't realize that after a few years, those drops add up to a quantitative amount.

That doesn't matter right appears they're in panic mode, running in circles with their hands flailing in the air.

They'll lay off or fire 1000+ teachers and staff members to get this monetary monkey off their backs....for now.

I'm guessing that in 5 years, we will be revisiting this crisis.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

My organization has deployed over 1200 Linux-powered computers to disadvantaged Austin students since 2005.  I don't want to hear how "Linux doesn't work".  It works fine and has proven to be superior in both performance and security.  Sure we use some MS-only software via Crossover, but that's another advantage of Linux.  We can and we do so without the inherent cost or peril of a native windows operating system.

Look, I'm not suggesting that this should happen overnight, nor am I silly enough to think that Linux on the desktop would solve all their woes.  What I am saying is that if the State of Indiana can do this, then it's not out of the realm of possibility for AISD to do least do a feasibility study.  Look for vendors that offer Linux on the desktop. 

There is the matter of critical Windows-only software...yes I know, but I also know that there are other such Free Software solutions such as Moodle.  There are hundreds of Open Source software solutions that meet or exceed their Windows counterparts.  The people making the IT decisions simply have to have the will to look into it.

Of that, I am not hopeful.

From the comments  -  "I am a recently retired teacher from AISD. You might want to ask them what they pay in licensing costs for their Blackboard software."
Anonymous retired AISD teacher

Many of the financial injuries that the Austin Independent School District suffer are self-inflicted.  Mind the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

All-Righty Then...


PV said...

This is a thermodynamic analogy to what the school district is claiming: in the end, the enthalpy may be negative, but the activation energy is so high that it doesn't make sense to start moving; a catalyst is needed to reduce that activation energy. Now let's do some replacement: enthalpy = long-run cost, activation energy = short-run cost, catalyst = you. It's really unfortunate that these organizations are so entrenched in Microsoft technologies that short-run considerations override long-run benefits.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

kozmcrae said...

Maybe we should reclassify accountants as "being" counters, since that's who they impact the most. They really do just deal with numbers. If nobody was there to stop them they would eliminate toilet paper as being too wasteful.

Hugo said...

The problem is that taxpayers and parents in general simply don't care until there is a problem

Like now

We are in so much debt,not just AISD I mean citywide state wide and even to a National level and a few changes in the long run could save us Millions such as this but no one is willing to do the work.

Even if you got the equipment and the ppl to do it for FREE there is so much red tape and laws that protect the corporations not you, that you would probably be looking at a few years for all the laws you break in the process.

This move alone would save them an arm or a leg or at least a few teachers, but that would be to convenient.

We are so much in debt that it has now become obvious who owns your schools and your kids for 8 hours, THE BANKS !!!

Dont believe me go to 13212 North Lamar Boulevard,Connolly High School, where u will proudly see a bank in school property and its logo displayed next to every school logo.

It is embarrassing Americans!!

Gavin said...

The root of the IT issue is probably a lack of knowledge, which is probably a by-product of a low budget overall. School districts are not known for their ability to pay market value for IT personnel, and I imagine that AISD is not at the top of that heap on a national level. Here are my guesses for AISD's IT situation:

The head-honchos are competent yet frustrated. They have their hands ties by minimally-skilled staff, their mouths tied by the district's PR department, and their legs tied by a budget that is so small they probably buy their own laptops for work purposes. At the end of the day, they are so sick and tired of being an ineffectual lump of flesh at work that they go home and do the dishes just to feel a sense of accomplishment.

The staff is so far in over their heads that they end up making stupid decisions because that is all they can do. (You get what you pay for...) Their Windows domains resemble spiderwebs of add-ons and quick-fixes, they are constantly putting out fires, they are forced to support every measly device with a "CPU" in it, and their on-site procedures involve a flash drive and a password.

The dev team doubles as generic "staff" and probably still works with .NET 1.1 for compatibility's sake. The network team spends only a third of their time at a console while the rest is spent above the ceiling tiles trying to figure out which cable goes where. Documentation is somehow always 3 to 5 years out-of-date, there are a few pesky NT servers still kicking around, subnets are considered to be "network security", server and network closets are spread around the buildings with only ceiling fans for cooling, and everyone secretly dreads the day that a clever student comes along and starts poking around because there is no centralized and comprehensive logging or intrusion-prevention system at the node level. Good thing they implemented MAC-based filtering last year!

All the hardware is suitably ancient or pathetic. They are probably still buying new computers with surplus parts because that is all they can afford with that Microsoft tax (or even all they can afford period). 80GB SATA 300 hard drives, single-core CPUs, 4 RAM slots filled with 256MB sticks, onboard video that is 3+ years old, and of course the gigabit NICs are an add-on! They have a 5-year cycle on their top servers, with a 7- to 12-year cycle on all other "servers". Most of their servers/desktops are still kicking it with 32-bit and PAE, although very few of them have more than 4GB of RAM. Honestly, the servers are all so old that rebooting takes place at night, when the 15- to 20-minute reboot time will not be noticed. And of course rebooting must be done at the local console, both because of the age of the hardware and because lights-out management costs so much more. I cringe at the thought of what they have for a back-up solution...

Gavin said...

The whole system is mostly likely based on what I call "road work" rather than "traffic lights". In other words, the infrastructure is designed to simply not have ways of doing things rather than being designed to stop things from happening. Flash drives causing infections? Instead of proactively preventing and combatting the infections in a centralized manner, complete with logging and trending, you can simply disable the USB ports! Sure, that kind of makes the computers difficult to use in terms of students being able to do their homework, but it solves the problem, right? And the routers have this silly behavior where you cannot mount your student drive in the library because those computers are on a different subnet can only reach the internet. Of course... students just work around that by using web-based email for their files... I imagine that the domain system has roaming profiles for students because the hard drives in the computers are artificially tiny due to budget constraints, which makes them all dreadfully slow over the 100Mbit network links, even with low disk quotas. Or perhaps the profiles are "generic" and are wiped after every semester? The domain policies are probably so strict (for security reasons, of course) that the teachers and students can barely use them for anything! Easier to use the shotgun approach when all you have are bottom-cert IT workers.

It would take a complete turn-over in staff to realize a switch to anything other than what they have now. Heck, they are probably still "experimenting" with Windows Server 2008 R2 right now because the current staff is all 2000/2003 trained. Maybe they are even still struggling with the transitions to CIFS and NTLMv2! :P They certainly have no one who is well-versed in actual computer technologies, no one who has any idea about Kerberos or LDAP, no one who can change KDE to suit their Windows GUI needs - except maybe the Linux staff, but they are all mountain-top zealots so no one gives them much credence. They may even have had in-fighting between the Linux server people and Windows cert staff that was so bad they keep them in separate buildings now! Politics and ideologies run rampant, and some members of the staff are only there for a stepping-stone job in their career, anyway (which makes turn-over a small but crippling problem year-round). And then there are the Mac people, who mostly keep to themselves because there is no interest in cross-talk from either side. They keep pushing for the iPhone and iPad every month like clockwork, however, which is always ignored by the IT top brass who are enamored of their BlackBerrys and are, in turn, pushing for RIM integration with Exchange Server 2010.

In general, the whole situation is such a reversal of the 80/20 rule that no one really has time to do anything. They dug themselves into a hole back in 1995 and now they cannot get out of it. Changing over to Linux at this point would mean hiring an entire second staff to work at night for several months straight, after which it would be necessary to fire the entire first staff in addition to eating the cost of the remainder of the MS contracts. Do you think they are in a hurry to fire themselves? Would the district really approve the spending of two years' worth of IT budget in one? I am guessing no to both in light of all the teachers they are firing right now. The benefits would not be realized within the election terms of the politicians, so it would not be done. And people wonder why private industry is always ahead of government in this day and age...

Anonymous said...

Ken, I work in IT for a school district in a large city to the south of Austin. For reasons that will become obvious, I will post this anonymously. Let me tell you where the problems, at least in my environment lie. I'll try to organize this so it makes sense and doesn't take up two pages.

Computers and IT are not even a consideration with the administration until something breaks. To them, it's an abstract, complicated part of the system and they hire smart people to make sure it doesn't become an issue they have to deal with.

We are the "man behind the curtain" to them. The technology of computers and networking is black magic and voodoo. It is a machine that is to run in the background to be used and not seen.

If there is an IT issue, my boss is called forward and told to fix it. My boss is an MSCE. We run third gen Windows servers that have to be rebooted two to three times a week and more than one tech has been admonished and threatened with his job if he brought up "Open Source" again. I am one of those techs.

Ken, the administration listens to whatever compu-babble the head IT guy spews out. They will pay any amount of money necessary to keep things working and if the head guy says we need to spend X amount of dollars on MS licensing, then we spend it. He is never questioned nor does anyone care. As long as things are running smoothly on the surface, they will spend the money he says needs to be spent as long as they don't have to deal with it.

No amount of logic or demonstration will sway these people. What they have learned is that you NEVER piss off the man behind the curtain.

David said...

Good point about long term savings. Migrations do cost money.

Consider cost savings of an open source and integrated school information system (SIS) too. My school is saving thousands by not paying licensing fees but the real win is integration. What previously took hours cross referencing now takes about 5 seconds. This is not an exaggeration. All student data is accessible in one place on the web. Other systems such as Moodle can pull in the data. Before we had to create courses once in the SIS then again in Moodle! I write a lot about this on my blog for anyone interested.

Unknown said...

If you are into the technical aspect of using Linux and networking, David Burke has an excellent blog. It's part of my daily news read now.

Anonymous said...

While I was not involved in the IT structure of a school district administration, I did hold a mid-management position within one for a number of years.

While you may detest politics, they are still very much present in the equation. This particular administration weighed the options based on nothing but politics.

Do they once again raise property taxes and evoke the ire of every voter in that district or do they lay off a thousand employees whos stories will be forgotten in two weeks?

I resigned my position in a large school district due to the political crap that was prevalent in my environment. Unfortunately, most people are not afforded such a luxury in this economy.

Place this mess squarely at the feet of political pressures and expediency.

Anyone who is involved in these decisions and denies political pressures and motives is a liar.

Anonymous said...

First off, let's keep the politics out of this. I'm not going to let this degrade into a Republicans vs Democrats thing.

From the bottom of my Texas home-schooled heart, Thank You.

Colonel Panik said...

And some school system IT admin will get
a pretty Christmas card from Redmond?
With something nice inside.

We cannot work within the system to fix
the system. Lets start over. I am not
sure how but I can not waste my time
trying to fight the government and the

Anonymous said...

I am a recently retired teacher from AISD. You might want to ask them what they pay in licensing costs for their Blackboard software.

Anonymous said...

switch to open source(ubuntu, debian, etc), that will surely save way more than you can imagine.
and plz, fire the superintendent

joedoe47 said...

oh boy this, director Gray Salada, is sounding a lot like the super intendant of Miami Dade county. They really should get a news flash to let them know that they do not live in a monopoly and they have a choice to get roughly about ~$100 or so for each windows licence and cd they return. I don't know they situation in Texas is however in Miami Dade, there are over 300,000 windows machines(that is quite a pretty penny; or more like $30,000,000). Yet they complain about spending too much money. Boy these two people sound like quite a pair. I really hope this won't affect the next generation's way of dealing with problems. Although I know it these sort of people will negatively impact the next generation, seeing how as I am part of that messed up generation.

Unknown said...

I have six machines I use in my electronic component manufaturers' Represenative business based in Austin, Texas. Three of my office machines run various versions of Windows software and three older machines run either Ubuntu Linux versions 9.04 or 10.04. The older Linux machines are faster, more stable and much more reliable than any of the Windows machines. Frankly, the Linux machines have never crashed, which is far from the case for the Windows systems. The free OpenOffice 3.2 productivity suite for Linux from Oracle runs circles around the various Windows Office suites as well.
In my opinion, anyone that shells out the money for Windows upgrades that require newer faster, more expensive machines to run Windows 7software have got to have something wrong with their intellect, or in the very least, are mathmatically challenged.
In a word, Linux is simply a winner and a better computing solution than Windows.
An added benefit to Linux are the thousands of free open source programs available for download.
As far as I know, no operating systems or programs are free from Microsoft.

Anonymous said...

As someone who ran a similarly large IT infrastructure for a school district, while your post makes simplistic sense, it's naive and unidimentional.

Do you know how much a school district pays for a Windows license? $5 a CAL and $16 or so for the OS. MS Office? $30something. For teachers requiring training in Linux that means millions in investment for a district that size (yes, I did the math, and yes, I know Linux with whichever front end is so much simpler than Windows).

I understand that AISD also has several thousands of Apple computers, from old through new OS versions.

TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) measures many things:
* Hardware
* OS
* Deployment cost
* Power and cooling costs
* Estimated support cost
* Upgrade and updates costs and person-hours
* EOL redeployment or disposal

It's the total cost to the district for that machine, expressed sometimes as a cost/user that drives hardware, software and support decisions. I think AISD has upwards of 80,000 students, and over 11,000 staff.

Bluntly, since folks coming to the district usually are familiar with Windows, and since the TCO rises dramatically with every additional supported operating system (and version), monoculture is a savior in this case. (Yeah, I know about viruses, bloatware, etc.)

Sure, I guess AISD could migrate everything all the way to Linux (which one? That'd be another religious war). Fact is, for computers that are first tier, having a single OS and a single set of apps is the way to go, and Windows is easier to train, more widely recognized, and, frankly, is the OS (and app set) that students will encounter in the real world. For which schools are supposed to prepare students (yeah, another can of worms.)

When a computer is nearing end-of-life, which at AISD I understand is somewhere between five and seven years, when it's about to be set out to pasture in a reading lab, or library, bringing it up to Linux is a great way to lower the TCO. Lighter OS, easier to lock down... the same reasons listed above for Windows apply to Linux for a computer's sunset years. It's not a high priority to fix, it'll be cannibalized for parts or torn down for computer repair education. And while OS licenses don't transfer in the Windows world (except Select licensing, don't-get-me-started-on-that), the MS apps do transfer, and are usually reapplied to other computers.

I'm a huge Linux fan. And of OpenOffice, Moodle, Google apps and everything else free. If I could build an infrastructure from scratch, I know opensource would be the only way to go.

We live in reality, however, and not in a distopia where technology "logic" dictates choices alone. You way not like bean-counters, or the idea of money forcing decisions. In that I applaud your socialist leanings. But here and now, with what we've got, Windows -- and Apple, and Linux -- all have a needed place in the environment.

Elder Geek said...

This is part of a much larger problem. If the average loan payment was $500 a month. And I found a bank that would let me make a loan payment of $50 a month, but it would go up $5 every month till the loan was paid off, would you take it?

Of course not. At some point your monthly payment would pass $500 and would continue to grow till it was more than your monthly salary. You would be a fool to take it.

Would you take the deal if you were going to pass the house on to your kids and the payment would not be to large till sometime late in their life? After all, it won't be your problem then.

That is what many states and companies have done. Back in the 60's if the bean counters did their counting you could arrive at the fact that the benefits new contracts with workers would pay, would eventually overwhelm the system. But that was 50 years away so why worry about it?

Now we are in a situation where people have worked for years, and deserve the wages they agreed to work for. The problem is it is not possible to keep this up. When you pay out more to retired workers in pensions and healthcare than you pay for currently working employees.

Everyone was short sighted. In this case, every couple of years, the school district signed deals that may look good on the books for the next 10 or 20 years, but when you pencil them all they way out, would spell doom. But hey! That is someone else's problem. The Union would sign onto contracts, that they knew in the long run no school district could pay. But hey, that is not their problem, their job is to get the best deal for the employees. Besides, WE wont be in charge of the union in 50 years when the school district has to declare insolvency and will be unable to pay wages, pensions and benefits.

Again we are in a pickle but the madness does not stop. Because the unions keep asking for more for their workers and the school district will keep paying more. After all, if they don't, good teachers will just defect to school districts that will.

I think Open Source is a good way to go. But even if all the computers were free and the IT budget was zero, that would not solve the problem. The patient is losing a pint of blood an hour, but look he has a free pedicure.

In the case of the school district, it is employees and former employees that are eating up all th e money. It is also sad, the amount of administration there is. Put a dollar in at the top, and by the time the school board, the Superintendent, their staff at the school district office get their job done, how much money actually makes it to the high school or elementary school?

This is a problem every city, county and state has to deal with. At least teachers tend to work from their mid 20's up into their 50's or 60's. Fire fighters and police offices tend to work for 20 years and we have to pay 40 years of pensions.

Yes, I know the work is dangerous. I know we have promised to pay them. I am just saying that we can't afford to do it, eventually the system will come apart. What we are doing is like peeing in bed to stay warm. It works for a while but in the long run you are worse off for it.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, bureocracies and Big Business get their way just because the first one dosen't really care what happens with the money as long as their job is secure, and the second one has the money to influence the first group.

Is the same thing all over the planet. Seems the only way to win ground is to slide in between the cracks of their armor and rot them from within one PC at a time.

Unknown said...

And of course they think you/I/we are crazy. Because Microsoft is all that they know.

However that is likely to change, as more Android and IOS devices sell (never mind the WebOS devices coming).

On last point that you really need to bring up. A respected analyst (myself) has predicted that Microsoft will enter Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceedings within 3 1/2 years, do to market changes that will kill their most profitable division, and reduce margins dramatically at other divisions. Mike Magee at TechEye was so impressed, that he published a synopsis of it.

Goto and do a search on 'Microsoft Death Watch'


Michelle Minkin said...

In that I applaud your socialist leanings....

You had me nodding my head in agreement until you said that. Having known the author for 10+ years, I can assure you that he's the farthest thing from a Socialist you can find. Fact is, Ken is a pretty Conservative guy.

Punctuating a great opposing point of view with an insult is like washing a car to spotless condition then waxing it with pigeon crap.


Anonymous said...

Ken, while I don't work in a school district, I do work at a Fortune 500 company here in Austin and I think even a minor migration to Linux would cause huge problems just for a couple of factors

The dependence on Outlook and Exchange.

Now, why anyone would tie their corporate entity down to one locked-down application is beyond guessing. Maybe Microsoft held such a stranglehold on the enterprise that managers felt safe in doing so.

That fact is, the dependence on Outlook alone is going to keep many large companies and school districts locked into the use of MS Windows.

I don't feel bad for them. I feel bad for the stockholders and taxpayers who have to deal with their folly.

I believe that eventually, they will realize their mistakes. The best we can hope for is to be around and gloat when the profound revelation hits them.

Bob Robertson said...


Disgust with the corruption and lack of results in a system supported by taxation is not "political". It's sociological.

That "we" tolerate such abuses, like beautiful buildings for administrators and collapsing "temporary" buildings for the actual students, is again not a political problem. Nor is identifying this corruption a matter of politics.

The only answer is a complete separation of school and state. Take the coercion out of funding schools, and people will quickly find out just how inexpensive and innovative education is when there is competition.

Alrighty then.

Sue-Ellen said...

I am a bean counter.

I am a tech geek.

Every machine in my company is Linux - workstation and servers alike (with a few evil M$ VMs because the ERP software we sell and support is Windoze only).

With so many small businesses being faced with extinction, you have to cut somewhere. I would rather cut on technology any day over cutting an employee.

There is nothing on the desktop that cannot be done in some fashion with Linux and open source apps. And this comes from a *formerly* heavy M$ user. I had always kept my hand in M$ OS's and Windows applications just because my clients were forced to use those, but during the past few years the economy has really put the screws to me, and so when it came time to start paying for license renewals on all the AV software, etc, the cost to upgrade MS Office - that was the end of that for me. I went all Linux for absolutely everything, except for those few M$ VM's.

Now - that anyone should think it is more important to *keep things running* than sparing the livelihoods of employees - well, that is just unconscionable.

As a matter of fact, you SAVE EVEN MORE by using Linux BECAUSE IT JUST PLAIN WORKS AND DOES NOT BREAK. Users don't have to fight with apps in Linux, or fight with the OS, or struggle with worms, viruses and malware, things don't lock up and freeze you don't have to reboot all the time - stuff just works, no need to call tech support every 5 minutes. And we all know how expensive calling an outsource IT company is - which is what most small businesses have to do since they cannot afford to have a dedicated in-house IT person.

However, people like comfort, and it is uncomfortable to have to learn new things, at least for most people. And so, they would rather fork over thousands of dollars for licensing so they can keep the level of comfort to which they are accustomed, even if it means laying off people to be able to afford that comfort level.

The reason Linux has yet to take over the desktop market is because people, in general, are LAZY and fight against change tooth and nail. This is FACT.

What a sad world in which we live... :(

And a plea to everyone, if I may - PLEASE donate your aging computers and peripherals to schools in your community. You have no idea how much they are in need of these types of donations...!!!

Anonymous said...

"...I think even a minor migration to Linux would cause huge problems just for a couple of factors

The dependence on Outlook and Exchange."

That didn't stop PC Pro:

From the article:

"The single biggest complaint was the lack of viable alternative to Outlook."

"But solutions exist if we did plot a permanent switch to Ubuntu, such as running Exchange email and calendars via Google Apps."

Anonymous said...

Whether the use of Linux would help at all remains to be seen, but I will tell you what will be seen.

They are going to lay off teachers but this isn't an "Austin" problem. This problem is state-wide. A teacher laid off from an Austin school isn't going to move to Houston and find work. They are protective of their own jobs and in all likelihood HISD has financial problems of their own.

Someone said it above me, In a couple of weeks, this will leave the news cycle and the people that lose their jobs will be forgotten,. Many will probably move out of state and find work elsewehere.

Now AISD wonders why they can't get good teachers to apply.

AISD has "bought" the very quality they've paid for. Your are a fool if you think your teachingjob will be safe as long as the same people manage the budget.

Peter Woodfellow said...

I work in a school it department there is so much waste and cost involved on software and licences. Who ever this was is completely correct

Anonymous said...

I am a recently retired teacher from AISD. You might want to ask them what they pay in licensing costs for their Blackboard software.

Unknown said...

Sorry I found this so late. I was the head of the IT Committee at an East Austin high school during the "budget crisis" last year, and my high school was closed at the end of the year, along with many others.

Some comments above mention Outlook, but AISD uses Lotus Notes, which is horrific, and everyone is encouraged to use the web interface. AISD could save huge amounts of money by moving to Google Apps for EDU and lose nothing except all the servers they need to support. Save the LDAP and file servers for the student $HOMES.

Anyway, no migration would have solved this problem. It will only save real money when there's a refresh. They needed that money _then_.

Since everything on AISD is web focused, from the mail to the student information system, there would be very little retraining needed for most staff if the underlying system changed. A big browser button would solve 95% of issues. My classroom had a document camera and a projector -- nothing that I would have needed to be retrained on. Oh, and an awful "smart board" system that was so inaccurate that it was unusable. Yeah, that had a Linux driver, but why bother?

Me? I'd have recommended that they go 100% Google and get Chromebooks. LTSP deployments would have been another good choice.

No one is seriously considering these kinds of changes until the crunch is on, though, and then the options are not viable because migration is always more expensive short-term than staying on whatever you're doing. Screw the long-term cost, eh?

It's all too depressing.

BTW, I've been reading your blog for years, back to when I think you were just a Slashdot journal. I don't always agree with you, but you're a man with honesty and integrity. Keep up the good work.