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Arizona Department Of Education Worries The Proposed $0 IT Budget Could Cost Them Employees

Arizona Department of Education building
(Photo by Carrie Jung - KJZZ)
Arizona Department of Education building.

After spending 15 years in the tech industry in the valley, Ed Block said he’s gotten used to recruiters calling him about open jobs.

"It used to be one or two a week," he said. But that was then. Today, he fields more like three to four emails a day and a couple calls a week.

Block currently works at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). His job, in layman’s terms, is to coordinate the IT department’s projects. He likes his job and doesn’t plan to follow up on those other offers, but added "it’s starting to get pretty spooky when, at this point, we don’t have a forward budget."  

Block is referring to the IT budget in Gov. Doug Ducey’s current budget proposal. Which, at this point, is zero, despite a request for almost $18 million to continue developing and maintaining a new student database program.

As KJZZ reported last month, if the Governor’s spending plan is approved, work on the agency’s new system would stop. But effects of the proposal are extending beyond just the computer program. 

"I have lost people," said Mark Masterson, ADE's chief information officer. "One went to the government and one went externally"

He said while his agency and other state offices do offer good money, they’re not the highest salaries available. Masterson explained the way the state competes is by promoting the fact that you can have a life outside of work. That’s often not the case in a tech start-up where workers are often called on to work night and weekend hours.

But with a state budget line that still shows zero IT funding for next year, people are getting nervous. And if more people end up leaving as a result, he said that could end up costing the department more than just money in the long run.  

"Losing people is bigger than just losing them," Masterson added. "All that intellectual capital. They understand education. They understand what the kids are doing, they understand how the teachers look at that data. All of that is lost every time a body leaves."

And with an unemployment rate among IT professionals hovering around just 2 percent the department's current employees are in high demand, especially here in the valley where the tech industry is growing rapidly. 

"With many incumbents for positions having multiple opportunities presented to them, it becomes somewhat of a candidate's marketplace," said Rodney Rihela, the vice president of Atrilogy Solutions Group, one of the companies that helps state agencies, including the Department of Education, find IT workers. Meaning things like just watching lawmakers negotiate over the budget can be enough to make employees consider their options. A reality that isn’t lost on state agencies. 

Stefan Swiat, a spokesman for ADE, said that's why officials in his department are working behind the scenes right now negotiating with state lawmakers. There’s no official word on whether more money would be added to fund the education department's IT operations, though the Arizona House education sub-committee said they’re on board with finding a way to get at least some kind of funding from the state budget. 

Carrie Jung Senior Field Correspondent, Education Desk Carrie Jung began her public radio career in Albuquerque, N.M., where she fell in love with the diverse cultural scene and unique political environment of the Southwest. Jung has been heard on KJZZ since 2013 when she served as a regular contributor to the Fronteras Desk from KUNM Albuquerque. She covered several major stories there including New Mexico's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage and Albuquerque's failed voter initiative to ban late-term abortions. Jung has also contributed stories about environmental and Native American issues to NPR's Morning Edition, PRI's The World, Al Jazeera America, WNYC's The Takeaway, and National Native News. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in marketing, both from Clemson University. When Jung isn't producing content for KJZZ she can usually be found buried beneath mounds of fabric and quilting supplies. She recently co-authored a book, "Sweet And Simple Sewing," with her mother and sister, who are fabric designers.