Saving Money and Gaining Efficiencies

It’s a good thing Catherine Chambers isn’t afraid of a challenge, because that’s exactly what she got when she accepted the position of manager of Printing Services for State College Area School District (SCASD) in State College, PA. “I replaced an excellent manager who’d been in the position for 38 years,” she explains. “It was my job to take an analog print shop, complete with three offset presses, and bring it into the digital age.”

And with more than 15 years experience in managing print, copier, and mailing functions in higher education and the private sector, she was just the person for the job for this district with approximately 7,200 students in 10 elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school located in the heart of Pennsylvania.

“Because most paper that is inked is distributed by mail, whether outgoing or interoffice, it is more economical and efficient to combine printing and mailing services,” says Chambers. “We have a loading dock and plenty of space, so we had the opportunity to combine the two services and thus achieve real cost savings and greater efficiencies in both printing and mailing for our 1,200 customers (teachers and administrators), who are spread out in 20 locations.”

A Copier Management Program
Chamber’s first goal was to implement a district-wide copier management program. An RFP for copiers and a cost-per-copy program was written, proposals were received and evaluated, and a vendor was chosen. The program was up and running at the beginning of the current school year. “All 52 copiers were replaced, and for a very good price,” she says. “It’s more cost efficient because the cost-per-copy price includes equipment, maintenance, and toner. Our only additional cost is for paper and staples.”

The kinds and sizes of copiers that went into each building were based on historical volumes. Naturally, there were some buildings with large copiers that weren’t seeing the volume of copies the machines were capable of producing, which was not cost effective, so they were equipped with more appropriately sized machines. “For the most part, the machines look and feel the same from building to building,” says Chambers, “which benefits traveling teachers and staff.”

Printing Services averages approximately 1.2 million impressions or copies per month. Orders are processed based on the date the customer wants it, which only works if customers use realistic dates. “For the most part, customers do send their work here, as opposed to doing it themselves,” offers Chambers, “and they provide reasonable dates. I think they’re pleased with the quality of their copies.”

This would be because the print shop itself is equipped with four large high-volume production machines boasting more features than in the past, which helps to streamline work processes. “Printing can be a very manual, process-oriented job,” Chambers describes. “Now we have copiers that can create copies and covers, fold and staple. It speeds up the process as compared to an offset press, as well as saves labor.”

Not that the offset presses are not used or appreciated anymore. The two that remain are inked up mostly for letterhead and envelopes. “Now that we have mailing equipment, we’re printing a lot more envelopes,” Chambers explains.

One specific annual project in which efficiencies have been garnered is the Course Selection Guide, which is updated, printed, and distributed annually to 8th through 11th grade students. In the past, 3,600 copies were printed on an offset press, and the job took about a month to complete.

“This year, I worked with the originators of the Course Selection Guide,” says Chambers. “And we designed the project so it would run on a copier and come out completely finished. It simply required changing margins, font sizes, and the binding method. We got a better piece — completely finished — in four to five days, while keeping up with our other daily work. In addition, we only printed 1,650 copies. Because the job is stored on the copier, anyone needing more copies can send a work order, and we can print any amount needed.”

Chambers admits that, initially, she had to sell the idea. But she got the support she needed. As a result, paper and printing costs, as well as storage space, have been saved. She hopes to see more savings along these lines. “Because toner is already dry when it comes out of the copier, we’ve been able to speed up our turnaround time,” she points out. “That’s our biggest improvement. Jobs have gone from taking 10 work days to taking just three to five days.”

An Improved Mail System
The next step in combining and upgrading printing and mailing services was to look for opportunities to gain savings and efficiencies in mail services. “That’s what I’m doing now,” Chambers says.

First, the district purchased a first-class permit for bulk mailings. “It allows us to take discounts on our first class mail, like report cards,” says Chambers. “If we’re mailing more than 150 pieces, I can recommend that we use the permit, which decreases the district’s cost. That’s increasingly important. Even though we’re a medium-sized district, 7,200 pieces, one to each family, is a lot of postage. We’re increasing bulk mailings with a small table-top inserter folder, and we’re addressing them with digital equipment. This is a service that was not provided before.”

An immediate savings was found in the district’s tax bill mailings, of which several are done per year. In the past, this has been handled by an outside vendor. This year, the job was brought in house, thus saving the vendor’s cost.

Here is how specific postage savings occur. For every piece that is mailed at the bulk rate of 15.5 cents, the district saves 25.5 cents, which is the difference between bulk and the .41-cent first-class rate. For every piece that is mailed using the first-class permit (like report cards), 3.7 cents is saved. “It is important to note that greater discounts can be taken,” says Chambers, “but these are the ones we can presently take in-house with our existing software and databases. If we have a large mailing, like our district newsletter, which is about 8,000 pieces, we use a mailhouse that certifies our addresses and data so we can take advantage of even deeper discounts.”

Also, the department is preparing to handle the processing of daily mail. Currently, the district’s delivery driver picks up the mail at each building and takes it to the central administrative offices. Around 5 p.m., an outside vendor picks it up and takes it to his shop, where it is stamped with a postage mail meter machine and taken to the Post Office the next day. Obviously, in this form, outgoing mail actually takes two days to go out.

In the new system, which is still a work in progress, Chambers is looking at acquiring a postage meter to locate in the print shop, which will allow mail to leave the same day. “The Facilities department has a truck and driver,” offers Chambers. “The driver delivers orders and picks up completed work three times a day. He would simply add incoming mail, which we would meter and ship out the same day. We’re working with Facilities to come up with a schedule, but it could be as simple as changing the location where he drops the incoming mail and adding a stop toward the end of the day at the Post Office.”

In addition to being more efficient, this model will save the cost of the outside vendor. Chambers also hopes this will allow her department to look at numbers and trends and identify mail that can be bulk mailed, therefore saving even more money.

“If you’re the printer and you have knowledge of the mailing rules,” Chambers continues, “you understand that the Post Office’s new mantra is ‘size and shape matters.’ They’re not charging for weight as much as for size and shape.” As such, she hopes to start educating teachers and administrators about the cost savings available by using a #10 envelope as opposed to a 9x12 envelope.

A Document Management Program
The third manner in which Chambers hopes to improve Printing Services offerings is via document management. The district has years of traditional paper records in storage, and her goal is to facilitate the transfer of these student records from paper to the digital system used now. All the copiers have scanners on them that can be and have been networked. “The system is already in place,” she says. “We’re going to scan the records that are taking up space and put them in our electronic student system. We’ll get the storage space back and meet federal requirements for document storage. What we’ve specifically planned is that the print shop will handle the old records. In the future, clerical staff in individual buildings may be the ones who keep up with new records.”

In the end, Chambers is pleased with the progress the print shop is making. “In addition to everything else, we also incorporated the Poster Making, Laminating, and Ellison Services department,” she says. “The print shop used to be operated by one manager and four-and-a-half full-time people. Two of these senior employees retired in August 2007, and one of the positions was filled with an employee who had experience with digital technologies. Currently, we’re three departments operated by one manager, four full-time people, and two part-time retirees, who share a 37.5 hour/week position as needed.”

Chambers believes that using experienced retirees is a win-win solution for the district because it leverages the knowledge, skills, and experience of the retirees while minimizing personnel benefit costs to the district. The retirees also benefit from the opportunity to contribute, as well as the extra income and a flexible work schedule.

The future is already on Chambers’ radar. In the next couple of years, she expects to see savings in personnel (from not filling one full-time print shop position), postage (from better planning of mailings from conception to production to fulfillment, using bulk mail more often, and using the first-class permit whenever possible), and the copier management program, which she believes will show district-wide savings at the end of its first three-year contract.