Insight into Metro Schools IT

There appears to be some confusion regarding the Metro Schools move to our own Active Directory system.  MNPS and Metro ITS meet regularly, work together on multiple projects and jointly want to create the most effective, efficient, secure environment while using tax dollars carefully.

As Keith Durbin said during his budget presentation to Metro Council, there are two major considerations with networks: technical and policy.  Technically almost anything is possible. In the policy area, MNPS and ITS have not always been able to reconcile business needs, security, and user access. 

The district has spent $235,000 this year to purchase servers, software and transition consulting services to reduce redundancy in our system. Our first-year savings will be $265,000 compared to using the current ITS system. Beginning in 2013-14, our savings will be $500,000 annually and service to our schools and students will expand and improve.

  • Moving MNPS employee accounts from ITS domain servers to MNPS domain servers eliminates redundant systems.  Currently, there are two main domains for Metro Schools:  mnps.org, operated under ITS, and mnpsk12.org operated by Metro Schools.  These are parallel systems, created years ago when schools needed functionality not allowed under ITS security policies.  By moving all accounts to a single domain, MNPS technicians will no longer have to duplicate all their work on two domains, nor will ITS technicians.  The end result is a simplified process.
  • The system being moved from ITS to MNPS, Active Directory/Exchange Server, gives each user specific permissions and access to resources.  MNPS has multiple systems that require tiered access.  For example, Chancery, which is the official student information system, has access levels for teachers, counselors, principals and central administration.  Each user’s access is limited to the data and resources needed to perform each job.  This increases functionality and meets federal (FERPA) requirements for protecting student information.  Under ITS policy, MNPS cannot create new access levels or prioritize requests—and every change to one system must be duplicated on two systems.
  • Our nationally recognized data warehouse has three levels of access:  classroom (teacher), school (principal) and district wide.  The Mayor and the public have called on the district to expand collaboration with community organizations and a new community access level will allow nonprofits to make data-based decisions to benefit our young people. ITS security policies prevent this. 
  • ITS operates 10,059 user accounts and mailboxes for MNPS.  The pro-rated cost for each mailbox is $50 per user per year for an annual internal service fee of $501,332 for email.  We are moving to Microsoft 365, which is free to education users.  It provides email service and mailbox storage space for each account that is 100 times larger than Metro ITS provides. In addition, MNPS pays an internal service fee to ITS for functions like payroll, HR and purchasing (EBS).
  • Under current ITS policies, there is a one-way “trust” between ITS and MNPS.  This means data cannot flow freely between Metro ITS and MNPS.  This creates problems for teacher-student communication as teachers are on ITS (mnps.org) and students are on MNPS (mnpsk12.org).  Metro ITS has advised their security policies will not allow a two-way process with MNPS data.  As the district moves toward things like Sharepoint, this would make collaborative functions between students and teachers impossible without considerable, ongoing workaround costs.
  • There has been a lot of discussion regarding networks.  Metro ITS operates a network serving 59 departments and agencies with 12,704 connections.  MNPS operates a network serving 143 schools and other buildings with more than 95,000 connections. These are separate networks because they have very different requirements. 
    • The school network is designed to include children. Metro ITS security policies will not allow children on its network.
    • Federal e-rate funding, only available to schools and libraries, pays for almost 80% of the MNPS network cost.
  • The chart below compares the two departments using information from the ITS annual report.

  ITS            MNPS                

Department & Agencies Supported (Schools & Admin)

59

143

Operating Budget

$15M

$11M

Desktop/Laptop Computers

6,419

50,485

Obsolete computers replaced

1,736

>6,000

Stored Data (in terabytes)

143

170

Network Connections

12,704

~95,000

Phone Lines

9,032

1,895*

Cell Phones

2,500

731

Staff

134

109

*NOTE because MNPS utilizes VoIP, these lines serve over 9,000 actual phones

I hope that these points help clear up any misunderstanding regarding computer networks, duplication of services and accountability.  We understand the security requirements of the Police Department and other departments served by Metro ITS are very different from the requirements of the school district. MNPS and Metro ITS meet regularly and want to create sound, secure electronic environments while protecting the interests of the tax-paying public.

Fred Carr

Chief Operating Officer

Metro Nashville Public Schools

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