Baylor School’s Chuck Thompson cut down on paper use by allocating just $15 worth of printing per year to each student.

Oct 27 2008

Paper Smart

These three schools are revamping their printing needs to save money and improve service.

These three schools are revamping their printing needs to save money and improve service.

What is one of the most common occurrences that escapes regular oversight in schools? Printing. That’s the conclusion that Jeff Blood, partner and vice president of business development for Boise, Idaho-based Optimizon, came to when he recently began evaluating the market segment. When Optimizon, a service contractor for printer and copier fleets, conducted a survey of 107 school districts with student enrollments of 10,000 to 30,000, it uncovered a fragmented — and expensive — picture.

As a rule of thumb, Blood’s national average assumes that schools print between 15 and 25 pages per student per day. Fifteen pages, at 3.5 cents per page, adds up to 52.5 cents per student per day, or $2.62 per week.

Sound affordable? Multiply that by 10,000 students, then multiply that answer by 45 weeks and the grand total — a conservative estimate — comes to $1.18 million. And that number doesn’t count posters on the wall or student handbooks. It’s merely the cost of printing class newsletters, homework assignments and backup files the administration keeps on each student in the central office.

A lack of coordination among departments adds to the confusion over the numbers. A school’s procurement officer usually buys the photocopiers, while the IT department chooses the printers. Individual schools pay for consumables out of their own budgets. This makes it nearly impossible for a district to nail down its true printing costs. And if you don’t know what you are actually spending, Blood points out, how do you make informed, cost-effective decisions on your printing needs?

No wonder Blood usually finds significant savings for his clients when it comes to revamping their printing processes.

Chicago Public Schools used 258 million sheets of paper in fiscal year 2007.

However, there is no universal path to savings, he insists. For some districts, a centralized graphics department makes the most sense, while other districts ultimately save money by putting a printer in every room. “You have to have the data,” he repeats. Here’s what internal investigations turned up in three school districts, and the solutions that worked best for their circumstances.

Pay-Per-Student Model

A cord of wood (stacked 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet) produces nearly 90,000 sheets of paper, enough for 2,700 copies of a 35-page newspaper, according to paper manufacturer Boise Cascade.

The paper waste at Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn., was obvious.

There’s no question technology rules at this school for boarding and day students in grades six through 12. Baylor offers 650 computers on 11 servers; more than 50 of its classrooms boast projectors. The science and technology building alone has 100 computers, and interactive whiteboards are common.

Still, administrators needed only to stroll into any lab at the end of the day to find trash cans heaped with discarded color prints for various presentations. Students would tweak a section of their report and hit print, then fiddle with another angle and print it again. They would think nothing of eyeballing 10 rounds before they were satisfied. It was also easy to guess the teen heartthrob of the week because students would print photos of Johnny Depp or Britney Spears to show friends — and then casually trash the celebrity when their gossip subsided.

Initially, administrators at the private school tried to reduce the number of printers across the campus. But teachers simply buddied up to trade printers from room to room, and in the end this approach didn’t make a dent in the cost column.

So today, Baylor’s network engineer, Chuck Thompson, oversees a pay-per-print system on the school’s 65 printers via software installed on the main server. Each student receives a card loaded with approximately $100, enough to pay for roughly 2,000 prints throughout the year. Students must swipe the card through a reader before the printer will spit out their work, and when they exceed the card limit, the school’s accounting package automatically starts a tab at 4 cents per black-and-white page, 8 cents for color.

To date, Thompson isn’t aware of a single student who has received a bill in the two years the system has been in place. “Actually, they aren’t using near what we give them for free,” he says, adding that, on average, students use only $15 to $20 a year. (Teachers aren’t subject to any limits.)

Print Driver Model

In 2005, administrators at Oak Hills Local School District in Cincinnati, Ohio, began the switch to a Windows platform, which created a specific address for every printer in a building. But when District Technology Coordinator Mike Cooper turned to the district’s five-building elementary school complex in 2007, this strategy meant that each computer would show available printers in every building, and students would be printing “every which way,” he says.

Unfortunately, Cooper already had a hint of how this setup might contribute to paper waste. Staff had relocated the 40 printers at the high school, and when computer users tried to print as usual, the print job was sent to their default printer — which was now in an upstairs room or down the hall, rather than at their fingertips. As a result, print jobs sat uncollected, eventually winding up in the trash. This not only wasted a significant amount of paper, but took a toll on Cooper’s department as he tried to chase down printers and change users’ defaults.

Cooper’s colleagues across the state suggested a universal print driver, which, combined with managed print administrator software, would allow him to control such details as default settings and locations from his central office. Despite initial skepticism, he gave it a try with the elementary schools. “Everything was wonderful,” he reports. Now he can make printer additions, deletions and modifications that are immediately available to all users logging onto the system.

Each person in the United States uses about 749 pounds of paper annually, according to the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority.

Cooper expected the move to benefit students, but was pleasantly surprised to see how easy it was to assist staff with their printing needs when they traveled to another building.

He recently measured his new time savings and discovered that he could add a printer to 100 computers in 2 minutes, 10 seconds, and rename one in 50 seconds. With the old setup, adding a printer took 2.5 hours — not counting the time to walk from room to room — and manually renaming a printer ate up 33 minutes and 20 seconds.

And the savings don’t stop at the clock. Analyst Larry Jamieson, director of the hard-copy industry advisory service at Lyra Research in Newton, Mass., contends that such print management procedures typically cut supply costs by about 40 percent.

“The universal print driver recommendation caught me off guard because I never thought it would be a solution,” says Cooper. “Don’t assume there’s nothing you can do. Other school districts are great resources.”

Shared Resources Model

Baylor’s Chuck Thompson was able to save paper and money by paying attention to small details.

When Highline Public Schools in Burien, Wash., brought three new school buildings online, Director of Technology Services Mark Finstrom went to each principal with a radical announcement: “I don’t plan to put printers in each of your rooms because I believe it will be an overwhelming cost you won’t be able to afford as time goes by.”

Instead, he installed shared multifunction copiers throughout the buildings, and saved the handful of printers for classes that needed them most, such as English courses and vocational education subjects. Finstrom estimates this substitution alone saved the district an estimated $50,000 in hardware costs for 100 printers.

Teachers have a monthly quota of prints they can make using the copiers to cover their classroom needs and any projects they authorize for their students; should they exceed the limit, they must appeal to the office manager for a reload. Many times, that request won’t fly. Finstrom is more than happy to help teachers avoid such jams by helping them scan documents to create electronic files.

But the savings don’t stop there. Finstrom’s homework revealed that an inkjet copier would cost Highline 30 percent to 40 percent less than a laser, because lasers work by staying warm to heat the toner so it mixes with the bonding agent for a dry print. Inkjets don’t require that energy; the HP model Finstrom chose runs on a regular 20 amp circuit rather than a dedicated 30 amp. And like Oak Hills’ Cooper, Finstrom can control default settings to ensure users don’t go crazy using the highest quality color settings for every job.

It’s a strategy Optimizon’s Blood applauds. “Which method might work for you depends on your district’s size and geography. But when you know your operating costs, then it’s simple to look at the business data and make good decisions.”

Hidden Money

Experts offer these additional ways to reduce print expenditures:

  • Pay close attention to printer and copier lifecycles. For instance, if a district contracts a machine to run 50,000 copies a year for five years but then pushes it to 100,000, additional costs will quickly surface. On the other hand, using it to spit out 25,000 copies annually means you just doubled your cost per copy, says Optimizon’s Jeff Blood. Good management means tracking usage patterns and moving machines accordingly.
  • Encourage teachers to accept electronic homework submissions as opposed to printed documents. This saves not only paper but also headaches, says Lyra Research’s Larry Jamieson. “The printer sits idle for 44 minutes while students work on their project and in the last minute everyone wants to print,” he explains.
  • Set printers to default to a draft mode.
  • Increase the number of available notebooks. “Two computers for 20 students means they don’t have much time and have to print out the materials to study them. Four or five means they can share more and print less,” Jamieson notes.

Potentially Paperless?

Districts that think they can go totally paperless are setting themselves up for a disappointment — it’s a nice goal but an impossible achievement, experts say.

From a classroom standpoint, paper is still more portable than a notebook, says Larry Jamieson, an analyst with Lyra Research. Administrators still need hard copies of sensitive files, in case of a server crash.

“And people just like paper. They like holding it in their hands,” notes Jeff Blood, partner and vice president of Optimizon.