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Arizona Education IT Leader Quits After Years Of Uncertain Funding

The head of the Arizona Department of Education’s Information Technology Department is leaving the organization after it received less than half of its state budget request.

“It’s just my own personal decision that it’s time to look for something that’s different and challenging versus just keeping the bike on the road,” said outgoing Chief Information Officer Mark Masterson.

The department requested $17.6 million for operations and to support projects such as the school payments system, which is almost 19 years old.

Together with the student data system, the school payments system allows ADE to distribute more than $5 billion to Arizona public schools.

ADE’s information technology system received a one-time allocation of $7.3 million in the budget approved by Gov. Doug Ducey last week. This means the department is not guaranteed funding for the next year.

“It makes it very difficult for you to implement a vision that is longstanding,” Masterson said.

Part of that vision is a revamped school payment system. The current one is almost 19 years old. 

“If that breaks, it could be a really hard break because then districts don’t get their money which then teachers don’t get paid,” Masterson said. 

RELATED: Arizona's New School Data System In Peril With Zero Dollars In State Budget

When Masterson started at ADE almost seven years ago, the system used to keep track of students was, in his words, “dysfunctional at best.”

A study completed at the time by the Arizona Office of Economic Recovery found that the state’s system was available only 50 percent of the time and hadn’t completed student counts on time for more than a decade.

A new system called AzEDS rolled out starting in 2015. Masterson said it’s estimated to save the state $40 million a year. A performance review from an evaluator was released in October and called the AzEDS system “ a major milestone and accomplishment.

The IT department was recognized in the industry with a CIO 100 Award in 2015 for its innovation.

“You don’t find this sort of person in the public sector,” ADE spokesman Stefan Swiat said of Masterson. “I don’t think people realize the magnitude of someone like this leaving. It’s going to take a long time to replace someone of his stature.”

Earlier this year, ADE staff said they were increasingly targeted by recruiters and Masterson himself worried about losing top talent

ADE Chief Technology Officer Satish Pattisapu will replace Masterson when he leaves in August. Masterson said he hired and has mentored Pattisapu for the last six years.

“I think given the opportunity he will do an excellent job for the state,” Masterson said. 

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.