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ASBO conference helps schools save money

New technologies that can save schools money were featured at ASBO's annual conference.
New technologies that can save schools money were featured at ASBO’s annual conference.

New technologies that can help schools save money and improve efficiency were on display during the Association for School Business Officials’ annual conference in Orlando Sept. 24-26.

Among the many products featured during the ASBO conference were systems designed to keep better track of the hours worked by school bus drivers, recover the costs associated with opening schools for community use, and even dry students’ hands more efficiently than by using paper towels or traditional warm-air blowers.

Missoula, Mont.-based Education Logistics Inc. (EDULOG) said its eDPS electronic driver payroll system saved the Clayton County, Ga., school system an estimated $1 million in driver payroll expenses last year.

“With the EDULOG payroll system, we’ve taken care of two of our district’s goals: reducing payroll costs while keeping busing services the same, and ensuring that all labor records are fair and accurate in order to reduce lawsuits and claims against the district,” said John Lyles, the district’s transportation director, in a press release.

eDPS is a mobile smart-phone application that bus drivers use to record when their shift begins and ends. The software exists on a phone that stays on the bus at all times, and information from the application is sent to EDULOG’s servers, where it is uploaded to the district’s payroll system automatically.

Bus drivers use the phone’s keypad to enter their ID numbers, “and the system … take[s] care of the rest,” Lyles said. “That way, there is no need for all the drivers to go to one place and punch into a time clock, there can be no fudging of the time, and there’s no need to collect, store, and transcribe paper cards. That in itself saves time and money, and EDULOG’s electronic system keeps accurate records down to the minute.”

That can be important, Lyles noted: With more than 500 drivers being paid an average of $19 per hour, an extra 15 minutes per driver can really add up if the drivers are estimating their time worked each day.

Plus, having an automated system helps the district keep track of which drivers might be approaching 40 hours worked in a given week—allowing officials to assign other drivers for tasks such as transporting students to field trips or athletic events to keep from having to pay overtime wages.

EDULOG isn’t the only company that offers this capability; Indianapolis-based Synovia Corp. offers three different types of products for automating bus driver payroll.

The most basic system from Synovia is a simple key fob that drivers must insert into a device on the bus that tracks their hours; as long as their fob is inserted, the drivers are considered on the clock. The company’s middle-range solution allows drivers to scroll through a menu to designate a specific job code for the task they are performing—so if a district pays different rates for different kinds of driving jobs (such as regular bus routes, field trips, or after-school activities), the system can recognize these differences and report the correct payment accordingly.

The top-of-the-line system from Synovia is a mobile terminal that also lets drivers send and receive automated messages to a dispatcher. The terminal includes an emergency button that will summon emergency-response personnel if pressed.

According to Synovia, the Rutherford County, N.C., school district saved about $260,000 last year by using its driver payroll system on the district’s 150 buses.

“It only takes drivers overestimating their time by a few minutes each day” to add up to a huge expense for a school system, said Woody Fitzmaurice, the company’s vice president of business development.

Cary, N.C.-based SchoolDude is best known for its online software that helps school district IT managers with help-desk support and inventory management, but the company also offers a program that can help schools recover the costs associated with opening their buildings to the community after normal hours.

SchoolDude’s FSDirect is a facility scheduling software program for managing usage requests, tracking event schedules, and accounting for expenses related to facility use.

According to SchoolDude’s research, about 97 percent of schools say they’re losing money on community use of facilities. Additional expenses for lighting, heat, custodial service (including overtime charges), and building wear and tear can be a major drain on already overstretched budgets—but schools that invoice for after-hours use of their facilities are recovering costs equivalent to $17.91 per student, per year, using FSDirect, the company says.

The costs incurred when students and staff members wash and dry their hands throughout the school day might not rank high on the list of what keeps most school business officials awake at night, but Chicago-based Dyson Inc. believes it can save schools handfuls of money.

The Dyson Airblade is the fastest, most hygienic hand dryer available, the company says. It uses sheets of air traveling at more than 400 miles per hour to scrape water from a user’s hands like a windshield wiper, completely drying a pair of hands in 12 seconds.

The $1,199 device uses up to 80 percent less energy than warm-air hand dryers and can dry 22 pairs of hands for the price of a single paper towel, Dyson claims. Assuming a cost of one cent for every sheet of paper towel, the Airblade—which comes with a five-year warranty—reportedly will pay for itself within a year if used 200 times a day.

A program called Destiny Textbook Manager, from McHenry, Ill.-based Follett Software Co., is helping several districts save money by keeping better track of their textbooks.

A typical school district loses 5 to 10 percent of its instructional materials each year, Follett claims. The cost of replacing lost textbooks, combined with the staff costs associated with tracking down those materials, puts an unnecessary strain on already tight district budgets.

The program includes handheld bar-code scanners for tracking instructional materials by building, teacher, and student. This raises accountability, giving students an incentive to take better care of their books, Follett says. It also reduces the likelihood of unnecessary textbook purchases by district officials.

Using Destiny Textbook Manager, Florida’s Escambia County School District has saved more than $200,000 over the last two years by improving textbook accountability and reducing over-ordering across the district, Follett says. And California’s Pomona Unified Schools District reportedly has cut its textbook losses by 25 percent and reduced duplicate orders by 70 percent since implementing the system.

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