Smart Money: How schools are saving big bucks

In these challenging economic times, just about everyone is looking for ways to cut back—even schools. From using virtualization technology to accepting lunch payments online, districts are seeking money-saving methods. Here are some of our favorites.

• Get More Computing Power for Less. Steve Young, chief technology officer of Judson Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, replaced 418 old computers with new, energy-efficient PCs. The new PCs were loaded with NComputing desktop-virtualization software, allowing up to a dozen people to work off of the same machine. Each additional user needs an access device [which NComputing sells], a keyboard, a monitor, and a mouse. With the exact same number of PCs, Young provided an additional 1,260 computing seats. Running the 418 older computers was costing the district $11,537 per school year. Running the 418 fully equipped new PCs costs only $12,477. In addition, Young says he saved close to $600,000 on equipment and on energy costs. The new setup is $7.44 per user vs. $27.60 per seat, using the old PCs.

• Realign Your Resources. Gregory A. Partch, director of education technology for Hudson Falls (NY) Central School District, uses ClassLink Inquiry to capture every transaction at every desktop. “I know who the user is, what device he or she logged on—at school or at home—what he or she did, which websites they visited, and when they logged off,” says Partch. He uses the data to make more informed decisions about renewing applications or updating software licenses. “When a principal tells me he needs more computers, I can look at the building’s data to see if that’s true. Since I know exactly which classrooms are turning computers on and off, I know where the computers should go.” In some instances, the teacher is better served by getting an instructional technology resource person in to help with technology integration. One principal removed computers from a classroom because the teacher wasn’t using them. Best savings of all? Partch says he no longer buys products that do not get used. “Although we have not quantified the savings, my gut feeling is that we’ve saved up to 15 percent on hardware,” he says.

• Channel Your Inner Jerry Lewis. In 2008, high school students at Lake Washington (WA) School District actively participated in a community-wide phone-a-thon to raise money for new science-related technology. With assistance from the Lake Washington Schools Foundation, the students spent three nights calling more than 16,000 families in the community. The students are very committed to having quality science materials and knew that whatever they raised would go toward purchasing handheld science equipment. When the calling was over, they had raised $28,700 and were able to purchase such items as Vernier Lab Quests and Probeware for all of the district’s high schools. “Vernier’s technology adapts easily and quickly to the ever- changing trends in science education,” says Tracy Hoien, executive director of the Lake Washington Schools Foundation. “The company provides engaging hands-on and experiential learning that students typically only read about.” Although students were concerned about the economic downturn they held another phone-a-thon this year; even in these troubled times, they managed to raise more than $20,000.

• It Is Easy Being Green. Just ask Kim Dyer. Her eighth-grade students wanted to come up with some ways to save money by reducing energy costs and becoming more environmentally friendly. After some brainstorming, the students came up with the idea to dim the lights in the hallways between classes and to use energy-saving lights. Dyer, who teaches in the Arlington Heights (IL) School District #25, says her classroom is grateful to the Lutron lighting company for its LC system which measures the sunlight coming in the room to determine the amount of electric light needed. Thanks to that system, the school has cut its energy use by 50 percent and is part of Lutron’s nationwide Greenovation program. Next, Dyer’s students explored solar energy. They learned how a teacher at another school obtained funding from a foundation and obtained a grant for their own solar array. Now, the solar panel and lighting system are connected to a website so the students can keep track of energy use and production. They continue to monitor their efforts so they can modify their efforts as needed.

• Automate Your Processes. Thanks to companies like PaySchools, eFunds For Schools, and School Loop, districts can simplify everything from paying for school lunches to updating the website. PaySchools and eFunds For Schools are online-payment systems for instructional materials, field trips, yearbooks, and any other fees your district collects. Web-based and safe, they include in-depth reporting for any state-mandated paperwork. School Loop lets districts post information online instead of via snail mail. The San Ramon Valley (CA) Unified School District has stopped sending home progress reports for all students and is just sending them for students in danger of failings. San Ramon Valley also uses School Loop as a content-management system, says Terry Koehne, community relations director. “So far, about 12 of our schools are publishing new websites. School Loop lets them update content remotely, and it’s very easy to use. You can give gatekeeper privileges to as many people as you want.” Koehne says it’s a great savings from the ongoing, monthly webmaster fees the district used to incur, and estimates saving up to $20,000 a year in this way.