So I was pulling cable today, madly rebuilding our backbone before the teachers arrive next week, when the contractor who handles our phone and voicemail system walked past and asked, "You didn't pay for that cable did you? Because I get 'them' to give it to us for free."
I wasn't entirely sure who "them" was, but I was relieved to find out that the 6 spools of Cat 5e I had uncovered cleaning a back room this summer really were free for the taking. Apparently they had been supplied by Verizon some time back and there was plenty more where they came from if I just asked. Too bad nobody told me that a few years ago; I would have purchased a lot fewer patch cables over the years.
Then he asked a little more about the wiring I was doing. As it turns out, he had been involved in much of the original Ethernet wiring of the building a few years back. He then asked why I had replaced a couple of fiber runs with Ethernet. When I explained that the tranceivers had died last year and I didn't have the funds to replace them, this veritable font of knowledge scoffed and said, "Well I have some tranceivers in my truck. I can give them to you - I got them for free for the district. I have some extra fiber, too. Do you need any of that?" Of course, I'm about as likely to turn down free equipment as I am to pass up free food at a teacher luncheon.
While this was great for today, it points to a larger problem. Without easy communication between all of the folks that make a district run (contractors, vendors, administrators, IT guys, etc.), then we may not be able to take advantage of the various resources to which we have access. I've already talked about the need for documentation in a district to ensure continuity between staff (So you've been hit by a school bus...). This certainly applies to the people, companies, and groups with whom we work.
In fact, if this kind of communication isn't taking place, then set up a meeting. Talk with all of the IT staff in your district, form a list of questions, gaps in knowledge, and infrastructure needs. Submit these questions to your contractors and vendors and see what's out there. More importantly, examine your existing contracts and see what services, supplies, and equipment you should be receiving. For example, we were able to move our web hosting to high-availability external servers (instead of a small web server we maintained) through our ISP for free. I wouldn't have known this was an option, however, if I hadn't asked our account representative about hosting options.
Better yet, our phone contractor even gave me a bag of heavy duty zip ties today. The excitement was almost unbearable, and all I had to do was mention that I was low on zip ties. It doesn't take much to make us Ed Tech guys happy.