If you follow social media, you have probably heard of the controversy about the purchase by FCCPS of 15 Apple Watches for senior administrators, principals, and assistant principals for $5,735. FCCPS Story. While the amount is relatively small – $5,735 is only a tiny part of a school budget of almost $50 million – the issue is important because the purchase undermines faith in the School Administration and School Board at a point in time where trust is of increasing importance.
To say, as the Administration has, that Apple Watches increase student safety is an exaggeration, at best. There is little that an Apple Watch will do that a smartphone won’t, and often a smartphone will do what you want, such as voice dialing and hands-free communication, more efficiently. It’s hard to see how an Apple Watch would be important for a school administrator in a real emergency. Does the Falls Church City Police Chief, or the SWAT team, sport government-purchased Apple Watches?
As a result, the purchase undermines the credibility of the Schools in budget discussions. When the FY17 budget is discussed, the argument that the School budget is lean just became harder.
The purchase may also hurt teacher retention. Our great teachers, who often buy school supplies from their own pockets for their students, see limited funds used on a borderline luxury for the most senior employees, rather than essentials. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the recipients of the Apple Watch are mortified to wear it.
The credibility issue should be addressed rapidly by the Board. We are entering a process to select a company to build a new high school, and most of the key decisions will be made behind closed doors. We are also continuing to face rising school enrollments, which can lead to higher school costs and therefore taxes, and the public can’t conduct a line-item review of the budget. Credibility and trust are paramount.
How will the Board and Administration deal with this issue – defend the decision and bolster the justification for it, or conclude there is a problem and take steps to fix it? Stay tuned.