Dr. Larry S. Anderson, Founder/Director
National Center for Technology Planning
Mississippi State University
Every individual associated with a school or school district is of
vital importance to the process of technology planning. Certain people at
the central administration level, however, have acutely crucial roles to
play when the district is making plans to infuse technology pragmatically
into instructional and administrative operations. One administrator often
overlooked in the technology planning process is the school business
The school business manager (SBM) deals, on a daily basis, with a
majority of the aspects common to integration of technologies into
instruction. The SBM sees buildings, curriculum, personnel, utilities,
grants, equipment, resources, and travel as just a few of the ingredients
in the smorgasbord of normal operations. These aspects are some of the
identical critical issues considered by technology planners. Due to the
similarity in efforts, it makes perfect sense that the SBM would be
involved heavily in planning for sensible integration of technology for
When the technology planning committee for a district is formed,
the committee chair should ensure that the school business manager is
included. Mere input from the SBM could prove invaluable at critical
times, so he/she must be named to the committee and given complete
information on the litany of items the committee will consider.
Furthermore, this individual, probably, could chair one of the
subcommittees to deal with financial, physical, or coordination issues.
Peculiar capabilities of the school business manager are very
beneficial to the school district. Likewise, the technology planning
committee can take advantage of these characteristics. The SBM has an
obligation, both professionally and personally, to ensure that students'
welfare is preserved through the administrative and instructional
processes. The SBM has an important role to play in several key areas.
Some individuals might think that the school business manager has
no place in the personnel arena. To many, the SBM deals with financial
affairs only. Due to the fact that personnel are so crucial to operation
of the school, it makes perfect sense to incorporate the thinking of the
SBM in decisions that affect personnel. This is especially true when
considering personnel who are involved with technology functions.
The school business manager who is effective will interact with
technology faculty and staff regularly. Because of this, the SBM may
provide input to the superintendent and school board with regard to the
people they hire for specific technology-oriented jobs. Technologists, at
this phase of instructional technology adoption in schools, are engaged in
purchasing, maintaining, and upgrading large quantities of equipment.
Technologists make recommendations about modifications to physical plant
facilities so that various instructional technologies can be accommodated.
A wide variety of funding sources are sought to support the spread of
technologies. This multitude of common activities demonstrates the close
relationship between the normal functions of the school business manager
and his/her interaction with personnel involved with technologies.
A multitude of decisions must be made about physical plant
conditions, operations, specifications, renovation, consolidation, and
liquidation on a continuing, regular basis. These decisions are extremely
important because they affect every student, teacher, administrator, staff
person, and even the community. The SBM, thus, must remain acutely aware
of needs, interests, and concerns of patrons he/she serves.
Specific technology-oriented decisions with which the SBM must
deal include electrical, ergonomic, networking, and mapping concerns. As
microcomputers (and other technology devices, such as videodisc players,
LCD panels, CD-ROM drives, and file servers) are plugged in to the
school's electrical system, the current drain will increase certainly.
Although an individual computer doesn't draw much current on its own, the
cumulative effect of all the new technology devices can increase
significantly the demand on wiring and electrical panels. Perhaps, if a
school reaches a decision suddenly to network and install computers
throughout an elementary school that was built in the 1950's, chances are
extremely good that a complete electrical rewiring scheme will be
necessary, as well. The SBM should be engaged fully in this process,
because such important decisions require full knowledge and cooperation
from the central office level.
As the SBM faces approval/disapproval decisions about placing
technologies into students' environments, he/she must remember that new
furniture will be required. In this case, an understanding of ergonomic
requirements is essential. For example, the SBM must remember that
seating arrangements at a computer terminal are often different from what
the child needs for desk or table work. Many furniture and office supply
firms offer specialized computer furniture designed to alleviate physical
constraints facing the user. Decisions in this area become extremely
difficult to reach when a school serves multiple ages and physical sizes
of students in the same computing facilities.
Networking is an area that is changing rapidly. Networking,
though, is becoming increasingly pervasive in schools, because this
arrangement of devices allows for sharing of resources easily. While
costs are falling in some areas of networking, new products and solutions
are being developed regularly to solve problems and remove obstacles that
existed earlier. The wise SBM will not try to learn all one can know
about networking; rather, he/she would be well advised to seek the
assistance of an expert consultant with a proven record of networking
school resources. The needs of a school are not identical to networking
needs in the business world, so the consultant should understand the
methodologies desired by educators for meaningful distribution and sharing
of voice, video, and/or data within the school. Numerous reports and
papers exist, too, that will help the SBM and his/her advisors to
understand the successes of and pitfalls encountered by other educators
who have attempted the same or similar task.
If the SBM has an expectation that all technology-infusion efforts
must be funded from local coffers, he/she should spend some time examining
the many opportunities available to schools through grant programs.
Perhaps some money can be generated by external local sources; that is,
business, civic groups, or clubs may have a significant interest in
supporting the district's technology efforts. Grant proposals can be
written, though, to numerous foundations and state or federal agencies
that make a practice of providing money to worthwhile activities.
The Federal Register lists funding opportunities daily; every
school district should be aware of and receive information regularly from
the Federal Register. Perhaps the district has an officer carrying a
title such as Federal Projects Coordinator--this person should be in
possession of the very latest funding information from the federal
government. Certainly, the SBM will seek the assistance of this officer,
as well as knowledgeable individuals from a nearby university, in locating
and preparing funding requests.
If the SBM, or anyone else associated with the district, has
Internet connectivity or participates as a member of America Online,
he/she can obtain up-to-the-minute information about funding
opportunities. In addition, many experts operate forums designed
specifically to address issues and opportunities through grants. One such
individual is Dr. Gary Carnow, who is the forum leader on the Scholastic
Network. Dr. Carnow provides regular, consistent aid to educators who
either are beginning the funding process or who encounter various
obstacles during their pursuits.
The school business manager must remain keenly aware of
specification requirements for all purchases made by the district. It is
particularly important, however, that he/she realizes the special nature
of technology devices. For example, if one orders a microcomputer from a
particular vendor, he/she may or may not receive a keyboard, monitor, or
mouse. Specifications must be written completely. Often, as a matter of
fact, it is a good idea to seek advice from another knowledgeable person
prior to submitting specifications for bid or to ordering equipment.
Software is another area in which specifications are very
important. If a teacher has been using a specific software application
program, such as Print Shop, with the software loaded on individual
machines, but he/she suddenly obtains a network, chances are extremely
high that a different version of the software will be required. Such
software is known, often, as "network-aware" software. Pricing from
vendors will list regular software separately from networked software. To
avoid costly mistakes, the SBM must realize this situation or depend upon
experts in the area.
Most technology devices have a finite life span. To assume that
hardware will last indefinitely, and will work perfectly all that time, is
sheer folly. Just as the hardware has a fixed period of utility, the same
is true for buildings and other physical facilities. The SBM must not
only remain acutely aware of this fact, but he/she must extend this
understanding into practices adopted by the district.
Historically, many educators have thought that when they bought
computers, these things would just last forever. Hardly any thought at
all was given to the reality that the machine might become obsolete in a
fairly short time--even it the equipment worked perfectly for its entire
life span. LeRoy Finkel, one of the premier pioneers in the field of
educational technologies, stated that schools should adopt a three-year
obsolescence cycle. On the surface, this might seem rather short; we can
see, however, the rapid changes in technologies, coupled with remarkable
improvements in software. If we do, in fact, desire that students are
given the very best instructionally, we educators would be prudent to
examine a fixed cycle time in which technology devices are to reach a
terminal potential for the application being served at the time of
purchase. Perhaps some equipment can be shuttled off to other
applications; no sacrifices should be made in the quality of what students
are expected to use in their learning activities. Certainly, then, the
SBM has a quite significant role to play in this area, as he/she is
directly involved in equipment purchase.
An effective school business manager will not stay confined in
his/her office all day every day. It stands to reason that many days may
find the SBM "cooped up" for the entire day, but his/her perceived
effectiveness will rise remarkably in proportion to the quantity of time
spent traveling throughout the district visiting with teachers, staff, and
It is essential that teachers, the most direct deliverers of
instruction (although we all realize the importance of a teacher's being a
"guide by the side" rather than the "sage on the stage"), feel that the
SBM is in a helping role. When open communications can take place among
teachers, administrators, and the SBM regarding effective technology
infusion into instruction and administration, much good will be
accomplished. As the SBM indicates a perpetual openness to these candid
discussions, those he/she serves will be more apt to offer help when the
SBM needs it. Fewer disputes will arise over minutia associated with
purchases and maintenance issues. In short, the SBM will have a much
In many instances, the SBM can be the key liaison individual
between teachers who use the technologies and the top-level central
administration. This is especially true in districts that do not have a
technology coordinator. Mind you, no suggestion is made here that the SBM
should assume the role of a technology coordinator! To the contrary, the
relationship he/she enjoys with instructional faculty may lead to the
hiring of a technology coordinator at some point in the future. Should
this occur, all those concerned with the decision will be of a like mind.
The SBM can carry messages of need, concern, and celebration from teachers
to the superintendent--and vice versa.
Technology planning efforts at the school district level will be
enhanced, with regard to quality, if the school business manager is
involved. Even planners at the building level would be well-advised to
include the SBM in major portions of their deliberations. By the same
token, the SBM has a significant role to play by offering his/her services
to technology planning efforts in the district.
Perhaps this nationwide renewal of interest in planning for
technology integration, as it provides avenues for personnel at the local
level to spend considerable quantities of time engaged in serious
evaluation of their instructional delivery, will spawn new interest in
providing and maintaining systematic coordination of efforts throughout
all phases of school operation. Technology planning will have brought
together many school employees who, ordinarily, do not spend a great deal
of time in mutual activities.
The broad scope of responsibilities and opportunities afforded the
school business manager should cause all educators to refocus our
attention on ways to incorporate these special talents into technology
planning efforts. Administrator training institutions, too, face a
renewed call to ensure proper and adequate preparation, technologically,
for school business managers.
This article has not attempted to highlight all the roles played
by a school business manager during the technology planning cycle. As a
matter of fact, many specific roles will be evidenced depending upon
conditions in individual school districts. This has been an attempt,
however, to discuss crucial elements associated with many activities
associated with the manager's roles. Good advice to the SBM who desires
to operate with maximum effectiveness is to employ a healthy balance of
common sense and the Golden Rule!
Dr. Larry S. Anderson,
Assistant Professor, Department of Technology &
Founder/Director, National Center for Technology Planning
Mississippi State University