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Mobiles for your users

We all have users for whom a mobile phone of some sort makes a lot of sense. Our district has always either provided a phone or a moderate subsidy for key staff who need to stay in touch.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

We all have users for whom a mobile phone of some sort makes a lot of sense. Our district has always either provided a phone or a moderate subsidy for key staff who need to stay in touch. Principals need to be reachable in case of emergencies with their buildings or students. The superintendents attend frequent meetings and conferences outside the district and need an easy way to stay in contact with the main office and the principals. I move around the district, attend conferences, and am just as likely to be in a server closet as I am to be in my office. You get the picture.

Now that we actually have a tech director, though, for the district (that would be me), telecommunications in general and wireless communications specifically have fallen into my lap. This is one of those areas where, as we are joining the rest of the country in cutting any fat from out budget, we just might be able to save some money. We don't necessarily need to stop providing phones; rather, we need to provide them under a single corporate/government plan in a consistent way.

For example, as I noted, for some users we provide a monthly subsidy to compensate for their business use of a personal phone. This is just an expense, though, and gives us no real picture of usage or any benefits from sharing minutes through a corporate plan. On the other hand, for our users who actually have phones provided by the district, more often than not, they simply end up using their own mobiles since they would rather not carry around two phones.

The only exception to the latter case is for the three of us currently using BlackBerries. We're all inseparable from them and rely too heavily on the mobile data/email access to leave them off. We have to carry two phones since, not surprisingly, we really shouldn't be using our district phones for personal calls.

I'd like to propose a more enlightened policy, though and get your feedback. For users who currently get a subsidy towards their own personal phones, we should provide them with a mobile purchased and maintained by the district. Everyone whom the superintendent and the technology director deems in need of anytime/anywhere contact gets a phone, allowing us to pool minutes and access the deep discounts available to government entities. This also provides a much higher degree of accountability and allows us to examine usage and budget appropriately for wireless communications.

This part isn't really anything new. What would be unusual for a lot of districts would be to allow these key staff to use their district phones for personal calls as well. Courts have already ruled that reasonable non-work-related web surfing is acceptable at work, just as occasional personal phone calls are acceptable at work. Doesn't it make sense that if we expect a principal to accessible anytime in the event of a building problem that we would always want them to have and actively use their work phone? In some ways, these staff are always at work; I've received a lot of calls over weekends, during the evening, and very early in the morning from users struggling with student information system issues, hardware problems, or other issues preventing them from working at home or off hours.

In fact, it seems to make more sense for an employee to simply buy back minutes from the district if they use their district phone heavily for personal calls. We would have to establish a threshold at which we would expect users to take a deduction from their check. However, I would quite gladly give the district up to the amount I pay Verizon for my own phone to be able to just use my BlackBerry exclusively (because of our government discounts, I'm paying personally more for a lot less minutes than the district is paying for the voice service on my BlackBerry). It seems as though everyone wins here and the district gets employees who are always accessible. What do you think?

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