The proposed $103,470 (including $41,388 from PPEL this year) ThoughtExchange expense is once again on the Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) agenda–this time for tonight’s March 24th board meeting. ThoughtExchange is being sold to board members as a tool to aid in increasing community involvement and building trust prior to a bond vote, and the superintendent claims ThoughtExchange’s expense would be “cost neutral.”
Presumably, “cost neutral” means the purchase would replace existing software and services; however, the draft of the minutes from the ICCSD’s March 10th board meeting provides no detail about this. (As an aside, ICCSD’s board minutes are not providing much detail these days–to aid in building community trust and with no additional expense, the board could voluntarily add more information to the minutes than the minimum required by law.) The board public information packets also do not provide supporting detail for the claim that the purchase would be “cost neutral.”
I’m assuming that the ICCSD superintendent intends that ThoughtExchange, if purchased, would replace MindMixer, the community engagement tool sometimes used by ICCSD. I state sometimes because ICCSD administration did not solicit community engagement prior to ICCSD superintendent declaring last year’s budget cuts to be final–i.e., not subject to community input and discussion prior to enactment although the public was asked about whether students should be able to bring birthday treats.
A quick search of the ICCSD website showed little information about the MindMixer contract; however, in the July 17, 2012, ICCSD board minutes, it was remarked that the MindMixer “contract total is $7,500.” See pp. 44-45 at www.iowacityschools.org/files/_gRLBv_/9b3c4f6d204b996e3745a49013852ec4/August_7_2012.pdf. The Press-Citizen reported on July 29, 2012, that ICCSD was spending $3,750 to set up the Mind Mixer website. I’m unsure whether this was in addition to the contract cost.
Perhaps the Mind Mixer contract is much more expensive currently than originally reported? If so, I would be concerned about cost increases for ThoughtExchange as well. The proposed ThoughtExchange US Software Subscription Agreement in the most recent ICCSD board agenda packet provides that ICCSD can add “additional options” or “services” for “additional charges” so we are not informed with specificity of the bottom line cost.
I am more than a little skeptical of “cost neutral” claims. ICCSD’s 2011 $4.5 million purchase of the Educational Services Center (the old Press-Citizen building) was supposed to be cost neutral (as commonly understood, the proceeds from the sale of the ICCSD’s Sabin building and property were supposed to cover the purchase and remodel of the Press-Citizen building). Since that purchase, my recollection is that the former Press-Citizen building has required a new commercial roof, increased parking, and some replacement windows. While no reasonable person expects a building to be maintenance free long term, surely the need for a replacement roof and windows would have been noticed and should have been disclosed to the public at the time of purchase?
There are other ways for ICCSD’s administration to build trust than to purchase ThoughtExchange. This is especially so since there was no competitive bidding, no cost benefit analysis, and no public documentation of a comparison/contrast to other options, including MindMixer. Also consider what $103,470 could purchase to directly benefit students–e.g., chrome books, computers, musical instruments (e.g. digital piano), and playground equipment. ThoughtExchange should be voted down.
Update: The motion to approve the ThoughtExchange Service Agreement at the 3/24/15 ICCSD board meeting failed with only Brian Kirschling and Chris Lynch voting in favor of it.
Tuyet Baraugh, Patti Fields, Marla Swesey, and Orville Townsend voted against the motion.