Navigating the Mail Services Treasure Map

Navigating postal regulations is like reading a treasure map: It can be difficult to know which end is up or even where to start, but once you reach the treasure (for school districts, the treasure is postage savings), you realize the journey was well worth the frustration. And, in the current recession, as school districts are looking for financial savings anywhere they can be found, scrutinizing postage costs is an obvious no-brainer.

“School districts tend to lag in feeling the effects of the economy,” says Chuck Linderman, RSBA, director of Business Affairs for Great Valley School District (GVSD) in Malvern, Pa., and vice president of ASBO. “We’re now feeling the pinch, and our revenues are drying up. We can do nothing more than just try to curb our expenditures as much as we can.”

In addition to saving money on postage, K-12 mail service managers are also saving money on labor and transportation, continually looking for ways to gain efficiencies and eliminate redundancies. Here’s what they’re doing in each of these three areas.

Reduce Postage
“Our budget for postage has gone down more than a million dollars in the last few years,” says Marc Monforte, director of Materiel Management Branch for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in California, “so we have to find efficiencies to cover that.” One way the district — the second-largest in the United States, with more than 61,000 students across 710 square miles — did that was replacing, as much as possible, first class mail with nonprofit mail.

A nonprofit designation from the United State Post Office (USPS) requires navigating a treasure map that includes meeting eligibility requirements, submitting an application, receiving a permit from the post office where you do your mailings and preparing the mail according to specific requirements. Here’s the payoff: It costs LAUSD $.15 per piece versus $.38 presort (more on presort in a minute) versus $.44 per piece first class.

To get the most from its nonprofit permit, Monforte and his team have worked to educate everyone in the district on how to prepare their outgoing mail and to plan ahead because nonprofit mail has a longer delivery time than first class mail. “Teachers and administrators don’t think about what they’re doing,” says Anna Salazar, LAUSD mail supervisor. “They just know the mail has to go to the parents, and that the mail unit takes care of it. So, I’ve gone to the schools and initiated training about the nonprofit service. If it’s a generic letter, why not send it nonprofit?”

Indeed, LAUSD officials feel so strongly about getting the most from their nonprofit permit that, if a piece of mail could go nonprofit, but doesn’t, the cost is charged back to the school.

As previously alluded, presort (also known as bulk) is another tool that school districts are using to save on postage costs. It, too, requires a permit and preparing outgoing mail according to specific requirements. Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest school district in the United States (with 480,000 students and 670 schools), is using presort.

“Cost savings alone on presort in the last two years are close to $30,000,” notes Rafael Acevedo, a site manager with Océ Business Services, to which CPS outsources its mail services. “And that’s our job,” he continues, “to bring in anything we can to give CPS cost savings so the district can focus on its core business.”

GVSD, which has seven buildings and 4,100 students, is saving about $1,000 per year at small schools and $3,000 to $5,000 per year at large schools using presort — with a twist in the treasure map. “We have a three-year contract with a third-party presort firm,” says Linderman. “The firm has a contract with the USPS. They pick up the presort mail from every building every day and take it to a regional mail facility, where it’s sorted. The bonus is that the USPS pays the presort firm.”

Reducing Labor
Switching to a third-party presort firm meant that GVSD needed fewer employees in its mailroom. Fortunately, no one was laid off. Employees were reassigned to positions vacated by attrition. And the employee whose job it is to pick up and deliver mail at each of the district’s buildings, which takes two hours, now has more available time in his work day, so he has been given the additional task of picking up the daily cafeteria deposits and delivering them to the district office.

None of the people interviewed for this article indicated that mail services staff was being eliminated primarily as a means of saving money. This is fortunate because every treasure map needs treasure hunters. Still, improving efficiency and reducing redundancy naturally leads to a need for fewer staff. And, like GVSD, everyone indicates that staff was reassigned as opposed to laid off.

For example, administrators at Lewisville Independent School District (LISD) in Texas are researching the possibility of replacing daily delivery to every campus with every-other-day delivery. When you consider that this district of 48,000 students is fairly spread out, with 72 buildings covering 127 square miles and in 12 different municipalities, it only makes sense.

“We think it would eliminate a truck and at least one person,” says Larry Williams, assistant superintendent for Facilities and Construction. “It would save on gas, and the economy of scale would be great.” The district is weighing those savings against not having as quick a response time for communicating by mail, especially considering that some mail contains sensitive documents like student records.

The specific research includes assessing just exactly what goes in and out every day, where it comes from and where it’s going. “We’re putting dollars and cents cost savings on vehicles, fuel, salaries and benefits,” says Williams. “I personally believe that there are significant savings to be had. But we also think messing with the traditional mail process is a pretty sensitive issue.”

Reducing Transportation
Make no mistake, if a treasure map indicates that transportation is needed, then transportation is needed. But it can be achieved economically. LISD, for example, is diligent about using bids to procure gas and diesel fuel, and purchasing vehicles with smaller engines, as well as some with diesel engines.

“We drive our vehicles until the wheels fall off, within reason,” quips Williams. “Seriously, we have tried to aggressively determine when we need to replace a vehicle. When the repair cost exceeds 50 percent of the vehicle’s value, we replace it with a new, more energy-efficient vehicle.”

“Transportation is a high cost,” agrees LAUSD’s Monforte. He indicates a creative solution: “We used to have dedicated trucks so all the cost was borne by the mail room. In the last few years, we implemented a program where other items are delivered along with the mail.” These items include office supplies from the general store supply warehouse, food-related items like sporkettes and plates, vacuum cleaners or musical instruments that need to be repaired, books that need to be moved. Now, only part of the cost of delivering the mail is charged to the mailroom, and the cost allocation is based on the load.

The current economic situation definitely has school districts feeling the pinch, and every department, including mail services, has to find ways to cut its budget. Reading the treasure map, with a little help from yer mates, will have you saving money on postage, labor and transportation in no time. And ye may lay to that!