Costs of teacher tool presented, questioned

District claims savings, but parents not so sure

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School district leaders said they saved money and created a better system by opting to build a Douglas County-specific teaching tool instead of buying such software from an outside vendor. But community members are challenging the figures the Douglas County School District says it so far has spent on the system, with some asserting the numbers don't reflect the total investment.

InspirED Innovation is described by DCSD as web-based software to help educators build teaching units, evaluate and document their progress, and get feedback from evaluators - much of which is required under Colorado's Educator Effectiveness Bill, or Senate Bill 191.

Using InspirED, "From a single tool they can define the outcomes they hope to achieve in class, design assessments to measure those outcomes, and coordinate the learning activities needed to reach their objectives," according to the DCSD website.

Though InspirED is a much larger, multipronged program, the district's teacher-evaluation system is encompassed within it. The Douglas County teachers' union recently requested a state review of the evaluation system, questioning its fairness and reliability.

During a May 6 presentation to the school board, a school district leader said the estimated 10-year cost for procurement of an outside vendor assessment system was about $8 million. DCSD's cost to develop its own system stands at about $3 million, including $1 million for an infrastructure upgrade that will benefit all DCSD departments and isn't exclusive to InspirED, according to staff.

Several parents, who have peppered DCSD with open-records requests, don't believe the reports from DCSD have provided a full accounting of the costs.
Julie Keim, who ran for the school board in 2013 and led a complaint against it for violating the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act, said her research shows the actual cost is as high as $11.9 million.

"I find it interesting that we can talk about a system on one night and come up with four different numbers for how much we've spent on it already," she said. "We haven't even talked about what we're going to spend on it in the future."

Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said Keim's total was not correct, but said she would be happy to review the numbers.

"We have shared tonight the real cost," she said.

Board member Craig Richardson agreed.

"I have no confidence in the objectivity or integrity of these numbers, and I give them the weight they deserve," he said of Keim's documentation.

Parent Patti Anderson expressed concern about future expenditures related to InspirED. Based on costs to date, she said: "The cost is going to be $25 million if we continue to spend over the next 10 years. I'm just not quite making the tie on how that's fiscally responsible."

Fagen pointed out that costs for developing a system aren't the same as buying one.

"Most projects are pretty straightforward because you purchase a service or product," she said. "But when you're building something internally that changes as it goes to meet the needs of those using it, it's a more challenging endeavor."

She also said the programs already available for purchase wouldn't have met DCSD's needs.
In creating their presentation for the May 6 meeting, DCSD "worked hard to figure out an apples-to-apples comparison," she said. "We actually were unable to find systems that did the things we wanted them to do. They had components we didn't need or want and were missing major components we absolutely needed."

A teacher and principal at the meeting gave InspirED positive reviews.

"I was initially a little skeptical," said Cimarron Middle School math teacher Ben D'Ardenne. "But I was really impressed. It took me about eight hours. To me, that was sufficient and I got the rating I felt I wanted to get or needed to get. It all comes down to: You've got to have an open dialogue with your evaluator."