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Upcoming vote could alter how schools get tech services

Some Minnesota school districts will gather for a January vote on whether to dissolve the Technology and Information Educational Services (TIES) collaborative. The group is owned by 48 member districts, including Hastings School District.

"I am very fearful of how the spiral downward is going to start going quite quickly for a business model that is no longer working," Hastings Superintendent Tim Collins said during a board meeting earlier this month.

Collins attended a meeting with the members of TIES. He said the feeling in the room was for TIES to dissolve.

TIES was originally created in 1967 when five districts created a joint powers cooperative to centralize computer services.

"(At that time) the world of technology was quite expensive, so districts came together to share that cost," said Mark Wolak, executive director of TIES.

Today, TIES has grown to 48 member districts to provide technology and information services to school administrators, educators and students. TIES provides software systems, professional development, technology integration training for teachers, hardware and software support, ISP services and more.

Collins said TIES was a great organization and service for school districts, but as times changed it has become difficult to compete with other vendors. He still believes there could be a niche for the organization, but not necessarily with the current business model.

Wolak said most of the change in the market has taken place in the last decade with districts having more options in the marketplace. He said one of the possible drivers for the change has been the effort to bring technology into the classroom with a focus on personalization of learning.

The Hastings school district pays a base membership fee of $22,275 annually. Currently, District 200 uses five separate TIES products including TIES Depot, iCue, Fee Pay, Internet services and Portal Disaster Recovery.

TIES Depot allows the district to do group purchasing with other districts for technology hardware. Fee Pay is a software that allows parents to complete registration, payments and other online paperwork for athletics. The Portal Disaster Recovery is a backup in the event that the Internet goes down.

Collins said the district has already been looking into switching providers for iCue, a software used for storing tests and assessments, and Internet services. Luckily for District 200, he said, aside from the internet software it would not be a huge transition for the district to get the five products from another entity.

In January, Wolak said the districts will be able to make one of two choices. They can vote to dissolve the joint powers district entity or remodel the current agreement.

If the districts vote for a remodel, Wolak said they would take a closer look at what would need to be involved in that work so that TIES could meet the needs of the districts.

"I think the importance of this work is to give districts a chance to define the business relationship they want with TIES, if any," Wolak said.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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