On Thursday, June 21st, the Huntsville City School Board approved Dr. Wardynski’s recommendation for a $21.9 million contract with Pearson Education, Inc. to convert the district from printed textbooks to a digital textbook learning system beginning in August of 2012. This contract was nearly $4 million more than Dr. Wardynski said it would be. Some numbers guy.
The board, as usual, approved the recommendation unanimously.
So beginning the first week of school a month and a half from now, our district will be using computers and tablets and not textbooks in all of our classrooms at all grade levels.
The Numbers Guy
Why is it that Dr. Wardynski, “a numbers guy” as some members of the board call him, regularly underestimates the actual costs of contracts when he discusses them with the board and the public? He did this with the Teach for America contract which doubled in costs, and now he’s done it with the Pearson contract. As you can see in reviewing the contract, the total cost for the six-year contract will be just shy of $22 million dollars ($21,902,845, to be precise).
And yet every time he referred to the cost when discussing it with the board he claimed that the cost was closer to $18 million.
Wardynski Talks Numbers
Here’s what he said:
On the cost side, we have a call to our parents tomorrow in which I get into a little bit of the cost side too. How does this work financially. Um, our best estimate to do this with textbooks, and our inventory of textbooks is quite old, uh we would probably make an investment somewhere around 15 to 19 million dollars. In paper. And that would involve warehousing and moving it around, all those things people are very used to seeing that went along with paper.
Uh, we don’t have 19 million dollars to buy new textbooks at a slug. [Ed. Note: This is why we don't buy all brand new textbooks every year.] So that would unfold probably, the transformation of our textbooks bought here would unfold over probably the next four to five years. Piece by piece. So it would be Envision Math, and then it would be something to do with history, and then maybe something to do with literacy, and that would flow in over time, and we would have the paper products.
So what we’re really doing is saying we’re not going to go that route, we’re going to go the digital route, and we’re going to spread those costs over the six years of our engagement with Pearson. And so, that cost, say it’s 18 would be 18 divided by three. [Ed. Note: I'm fairly certain he meant to say "18 divided by six" at this point, as 18 divided by three is six million rather than three million.] We do have money to do three million dollars a year to buy a subscription to have everybody immediately on the new curriculum.
Every new textbook to be digital available through the computers. And so the financials are sorta a wash, but it’s a timing issue. The upfront cost of doing business the old way were prohibitive, and frankly unaffordable. The new way of doing in business where you buy a subscription, or software as a service, levels that cost out so you don’t have that huge entry fee, and so it’s economically, it’s, it ends up being very similar numbers, but the second set of numbers are actually doable because of the way the finances lay out.
So the estimate he offered the board and the public for the cost of our paper textbooks was $15 – 19 million. The estimated cost of the digital contract with Pearson was $18 million.
If his numbers, estimates, and claims were correct, and considering that he has an iPad with a copy of the contract directly in front of him while he’s talking to the board (who also have a copy of the contract in front of them), you would think that he would be able to offer an estimate that is fairly close to being correct, wouldn’t you?
No One Corrects Him
At the very least, you would think that at least one of the, on average, twelve people in the room whom are looking at the contract while it’s being discussed could do math in their head and let the superintendent know that he’s underestimating the cost of the contract by four million dollars.
The superintendent has a copy. All five of the board members have a copy. The CSFO, the director of Operations, the director of empowered schools, the director of managed schools, the deputy superintendent, and the board attorney all have a copy of the contracts when the superintendent is discussing them, and yet not one of them managed to add six numbers to let the superintendent know that he was underestimating the total.
But that would require that someone in that room be more interested to an open and honest discussion than they are in simply advancing the Broad Foundation’s agenda as presented by the Superintendent.
So this new digital learning environment will cost between three and seven million more than the paper texts.
And this doesn’t include the cost of the hardware which the district is leasing from HP at a cost of about $2.3 million per year.
HP Lease Has No Numbers
Interestingly, we can’t actually get more precise than this rough estimate as the actual contract with HP doesn’t have any actual figures included in it. That’s right, the published contract has no figures included in the contract. I wonder what exactly the board approved on May 21st? I wonder if even they know?
So, assuming that the superintendent was correct when he claimed that the HP lease contract would cost “about $2.3 million per year,” the total cost for the next six years is actually closer to $35 million and not the $18 million that Dr. Wardynski claimed. In other words, this transition to a digital learning system will cost about $16 – 20 million more than paper textbooks will cost. Assuming, of course that the other numbers the superintendent has presented are more accurate than the Pearson estimate was.
That’s not exactly, as the superintendent claimed, “sorta a wash” is it?
Please understand, I’m not a Luddite. I love technology. The first word in the title is “geek” for a reason. (By the way, “Palaver” means “conversation” or “discussion” if you were wondering.)
I know that technology can help us do many things. It is a useful tool.
It is not, however, an end in itself. Technology is a tool for a teacher to use. It is not a teacher itself.
And our teachers’ salaries are still frozen despite having nearly an extra six million dollars a year to spend on tools for them to use to teach with.
We seem to be rolling in funds for the things the superintendent wants.