Rafranz Davis is the Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning for Lufkin ISD in Texas, as well as a noted speaker and blogger advocating for STEM education, teacher voice, digital equity, and diversity in edtech. You can follow her at @RafranzDavis.
Noodle Markets caught up with Rafranz as she detailed the winding road of finding the right vendor for her district’s website.
NM: You just spent months selecting a district website vendor. Apparently that search had a rocky start?
RD: That’s an understatement. Let me take us back about half a year, before I was even at Lufkin ISD for a whole day. At an open board meeting, I was hearing about our district budget, when I learned that our district website cost was over $50,000 a year.
I almost passed out at that moment. I thought, “How could we be paying so much?”
NM: Why was the cost so high?
RD: The website services were packaged with a subpar learning management system – even though we had no need for the LMS services. Unfortunately, this sort of bundling is not rare at all.
They were also pricing by student, which has become the industry standard. Vendors justify this with site use data, measured by Google Analytics. Well, of course Google Analytics will show that there are a lot of visits to a district site when the site is coupled with a LMS; the students are using it!
The visitor numbers I heard were baffling. Are you kidding me? Do you think people are just waiting around all day to get on a district website? Nobody does that.
NM: How can districts afford $50,000 websites?
RD: Well, district websites used to be covered under e-Rate, so whatever it cost, it cost. But e-Rate doesn’t cover them anymore, so now districts are footing the bill. Maybe that set the framework for how these things became so awfully expensive.
What’s sad is the market hasn’t updated itself.
NM: Do you get the feeling from vendors that they assume low-savvy from ed purchasers?
RD: Vendors assume we don’t know how websites work, let alone website purchasing. In many cases, that is true for educators – most districts don’t have website pros. So vendors assume that we can’t find our options and we are okay with paying for that. For my team and for me, that’s a dealbreaker.
NM: It sounds very frustrating.
RD: I have managed websites, run my own blog, used wordpress, and loaded my own Google Analytics – I know that world. I’m miffed by the vendors who dumb down their information and assume educators have no background knowledge on the way websites or other technical purchases work.
I don’t want to say the name of the vendor, but I remember asking one about integration with tools – calendars, users, page level permissions, etc. He stopped for a minute, “So you know a little bit of this technical stuff, don’t you?”
“Yes. I know full well about ‘this technical stuff.’”
If educators don’t have that background information, they need to be able to rely on other people who do this work. There needs to be a real dialogue about pricing and why vendors charge what they do.
NM: Any theories on why the market beyond K-12 hasn’t come in to fill in this need?
RD: Honestly, I don’t understand why it’s different. When it comes to selecting a website provider, at the end of the day, communicating is communicating.
Can you imagine if other companies that sell their website templating services for say, under a thousand dollars, really understood how big education was? They’d be running into the market to sell to schools.
I think I’m in the wrong line of work right now.
It’s not even about getting the cheapest price. When I looked at Chromebooks this year, there were vendors who did launchpad deals with platforms and Chromebooks, but those expired after a year. It would have been easy to do that cheap deal, but I didn’t want to end up with a product we couldn’t support, just because we were enticed by the price.
NM: How would you like the K-12 market to change?
RD: It’s almost like the big scam of education, in my opinion – that your choices are limited.
They say don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry, because you buy a lot of things you don’t need. Maybe you only wanted apples.
Give me apples and I’ll pay for apples, instead of making me pay for the entire produce section. We need to have flexibility with our funds to spend on the services that are really impacting kids.
That’s why I wanted Noodle Markets to exist earlier this year, because we could have made a choice so much sooner. Educators need more than just googling “School website vendor.” We need to see all of the options, and not have to hound my friends across the country to find vendors.
I know you didn’t need that soundbite, but it’s the truth. I want to commend you on having a product that we need in education.
Rafranz Davis recently completed her first Express Quote Request using Noodle Markets, in an effort to find vendor options and get the best price for Lufkin ISD. In the process, she increased the number of potential vendors by 400% and saved thousands of dollars for the district.
About Noodle Markets
Noodle Markets is dramatically transforming the way K-12 educational institutions buy products and services. As education companies add products and services to the marketplace and school officials discover new tools, Noodle Markets levels the playing field for vendors so the most innovative and effective tools gain traction. Its online marketplace and procurement platform help education institutions and vendors increase transparency, enhance communication, and enjoy more efficient purchasing in education. Learn more at www.noodlemarkets.com.