Some Wake County school employees are expected to lose their cell phones as part of a cost-cutting measure.
During last week's school board work session, Chief Business Officer David Neter said staff is reviewing which employees need to keep their district-issued devices and which ones will be switched to cheaper ones. Currently, some get a traditional cell phone while others might get a Blackberry or a Direct Connect device.
Handouts presented last week show that Wake is paying for nearly 2,500 cell devices. (As was explained last week, don't interpret the Blackberry page to mean those people are getting both a Blackberry and a cell.)
"We have begun conversation on the potential and the likelihood of eliminating cell phones for certain positions," Neter said. "Whether it's a secretary or clerical assistant, where it's not considered a mission-critical productivity tool, we will consider eliminating them...Every dollar counts."
The discussion came as the school board will be asked to approve a new cell plan on Tuesday that could save Wake $434,318 a year.
Neter said that previously cell devices were handled in a decentralized manner. He said schools will still continue to have discretion over who to give phones to but they'll have more central control over ordering and billing now.
Neter said they expect to move many of the people who now have devices, such as bus drivers, to an option on the new plan in which they'll only be charged 87 cents a month. People will be able to make unlimited in-network calls. They can also make calls out of network for 16 cents per minute.
Neter said that the bus drivers would be only allowed to call numbers on the phone's pre-loaded phonebook or 911. He said that, just like now, they'd still be barred from texting.
Bob Snidemiller, senior director for transportation, said drivers need the devices for emergencies.
A lot of last week's discussion was on the use of cell phones and Blackberries by principals and assistant principals.
School board vice chairwoman Debra Goldman, who has been pushing hard for details on the district's cell phone plan, questioned whether principals and assistant principals need to have both e-mail and text capability on their devices. She said she could understand having texting in case someone needed to reach them immediately.
Goldman also questioned whether assistant principals need Blackberries. Currently, 213 cell phones are given to assistant principals, of which 88 are Blackberries.
Goldman noted how much cheaper it would be to only have a cell phone with texting capability. She said the administrators could check their e-mails at their desks.
Chief Area Superintendent Danny Barnes said principals and assistant principals spend very little of the day in their offices as they're constantly walking around the school and doing things such as cafeteria duty. Barnes said it was easier on them to check the e-mails that come in all day by quickly scrolling through them on their phones.
Barnes said e-mail has become the primary source of communication with staff in the building during the day. He also said that email has become the preferred method of communication for some parents.
But Goldman said that, as a parent, she'd hope that administrators would be focused on the students while on cafeteria duty as opposed to their e-mail messages. She also said she would hope that administrators who are reading a parent's e-mail would be focusing on it and not the whirlwind going on in the cafeteria.
Barnes said he'd envision that if an administrator was expecting a message he'd want to quickly scroll for it and take that as a cue to go back to his office to respond.
Goldman then brought up the example of a meeting she had last year, before she was elected, with the principal of one of her children. During the meeting, another person sat in and was constantly looking down at his phone.
After the meeting ended, Goldman said he asked the principal who that other person was. She said the principal told her that the guy was an assistant principal. He wanted him there to get to know Goldman and her husband.
"You can't be doing this," said Goldman, who mimicked looking down at her phone, "and be focused on what's going on with the parents that are sitting in front of you."
Barnes said that he agreed that administrators should be focused on the parents who're they are meeting with. He also said that administrators on cafeteria duty should be focused on the students with the option of quickly checking their messages.