ST. PAUL-A collaborative that has provided Minnesota school districts with technology for 50 years is dissolving, but the organization's leaders say there's a good chance they'll continue under new stewardship.
Forty-seven members of the Technology Information and Educational Services, or TIES, voted Wednesday to end their ownership of the organization as the education technology market has grown increasingly competitive. One school district abstained from the vote.
But Mark Wollack, TIES executive director, say there is already one entity interested in taking over the organization and, if that doesn't pan out, there are other options on the horizon. Wollack added that he was pleased the 47 owner-districts followed his recommendation to end their ownership.
School districts had become increasingly wary of the risk associated with running a technology company, and it became clear a few years ago the TIES governance model needed to change, he said.
"The dissolution agreement allows us the flexibility to consider (takeover by) a private or public entity," Wolak said. "It opens the door to create a more visionary unit that is more aligned with the marketplace."
The market for educational software and technology is a lot different from when TIES was created in 1967. The products the organization offers, from online student information to fee payments to district finance management, is now widely available from other vendors.
As a result, the $43 million annual budget for TIES has suffered. The organization has also struggled after a scathing audit three years ago uncovered financial mismanagement and a $3 million deficit.
Leaders recently decided to hike membership fees 67 percent from $3 to $5 per student. More than a quarter of its members, which are mostly concentrated in the Twin Cities metro, signaled they planned to leave the partnership.
New owners or not, the transition won't be easy.
Currently, the best hope for TIES is that the National Joint Powers Alliance, a government contracting agency based in Staples, Minn., would take over all or part of the organization's business. They've signed a letter of intent to explore the possibility and are expected to make a decision in the coming months.
If that doesn't work out, Wolak says, TIES leaders will likely shop the organization to other public and private entities. They'll also likely put the TIES building and 3.7 acres it sits on in Falcon Heights, which property records show is worth $7.8 million, up for sale.
Without new stewardship, TIES will have to decide what to do with the organization's assets and liabilities. Closing would also mean the collaborative's roughly 200 customers in the Upper Midwest would have to find new technology vendors before June 2019.
Some districts are ahead of the transition game. In 2014, the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district was the first to give notice that it planned to leave the collaborative.
District officials said the decision was simple: Staff struggled with TIES software and they had cheaper options. The district ended up saving $80,000 annually on finance and student information systems.
Despite the uncertain future, Wolak believes there's still a place in the local education market for a lot of what TIES does. That includes consulting and training for teachers and staff.