Among the more frustrating situations faced by school technology leaders is the teacher or administrator who breaks their computer (or iPad, phone, printer, etc.). Whether the equipment was dropped, drenched, stolen, stepped on, cracked, whacked, thrown, or electrocuted makes little difference as the result is the same: a broken computer. In the best case (which, following Murphy’s Laws has .0001 percent chance of happening), a reboot or other simple fix will restore the device to operating condition. Anything else is likely to be expensive. “Bench fees” alone can be $100, and repair technicians are more likely to simply swap out parts than try to repair them, leading to even higher costs. The net results is that it can often cheaper to replace a device than to repair it. This is a problem for cash-strapped schools.
It is therefore understandable that school administrators want to pass some or all of the expense of equipment repair or replacement along to the person who broke the item.
The problem is, in almost all cases, you cannot legally require employees to pay for tools they use on the job that are broken or stolen. You can write all the policies and employment agreements you want, but they won’t stand up in court. Instead, schools need to consider such losses as a cost of doing business. Regulations covering such practices are made at the state level, so YMMV.
In the unlikely event that your particular state allows you to deduct the cost of the equipment from an employee’s wages, I urge caution. You want to encourage the use of technology, and financial penalties for using tech equipment is counterproductive.
“But,” you counter, “what about the employee who is willfully negligent and has a record of breaking equipment?” If this is happening you have a larger issue for which broken devices are but a symptom. There are likely other reasons to discipline and put such a person on a performance improvement plan. My advice is to not press for repayment, but instead focus on overall job quality and take the necessary steps to help the employee either get better or to lead them to the door.
It is important, therefore, that school administrators factor breakage into their technology budgets along with normal wear and tear, planned obsolescence, performance upgrades, and everything else that may affect your school’s technology adoption cycle.
Educational technologists may quibble about specific length of usable service but you must create a replacement schedule for technical equipment. Some schools like to “buy high,” getting state-of-the art equipment and passing it through a succession of users before finally retiring it. Others may choose to “buy low” and simply figure on a more frequent upgrade cycle. Recommended replacement cycles for computers and peripherals are the subject of a future post.