In what was likely one of his last official reports, the school district’s outgoing technology director urged trustees to continue pushing government to somehow cap the rising cost of telecommunications in the public sector.
Ron Shongrunden, whose one-year contract expires at the end of July, told the Okanagan Skaha school board on Monday that government officials have told him they expect it will soon cost upwards of $70 per student per month for private companies to provide wireless services.
That would cost about $4 million annually in this district alone, he noted.
“It’s bizarre, is how bad this is,” Shongrunden said. “So whether I’m a member of the school district or a member of the public, the taxpayers are going to have to deal with this … I will ensure they know about this.”
He also raised the alarm about possible fee increases for upgrading the Provincial Learning Network, which connects schools and government across B.C.
Shongrunden said PLNet is running out of capacity and he was able to fight back against what would have been a $234,000 bill to the district for a short-term fix.
“The result was, School District 67 did not have to implement budget reductions to pay for that $234,000 next year. That’s significant. And it has the potential here of being a long-term, multi-year savings,” he explained.
Shongrunden was due to retire in 2013 after three decades with Okanagan Skaha, but agreed to stay on in the position of director of business development and technology that was created to raise revenue for the district.
In his presentation Monday, the only new money he could point to that covered the cost of his $100,000 contract was a $6,000 annual deal to provide telecommunications services to an unspecified community building using the district’s existing fibre optic network.
“We’re working on a number of other contracts with a number of different organizations right now that are in progress,” he added. “We should expect some revenue — it’s going to be a fairly nice amount, too — by this fall.”
However, he also pointed out a number of savings, including the $234,000 on PLNet upgrades, that more than offset his cost.
Despite that, the school board elected not to renew his contract.
“A lot of factors were factored in, and we certainly appreciate all the work and all the money that Mr. Shongrunden has generated,” said school board chairman Bruce Johnson.
“Having said that, to go to the next step could have been a very significant financial investment on behalf of the board, and the decision was to finish off this year’s contract and call it good.”
Shongrunden urged trustees to keep lobbying senior governments for the increased use of shared services and lower telecommunications fees for the public sector.
“Government is inefficient, and so are school districts,” he said.
“Everybody is doing the same thing, and we need technology to solve that. We need high-speed connectivity at a reasonable price.”