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Tired of lost books and antiquated faxes, two districts opt for 21st century asset management

textbooks-assetsTwo years ago Consolidated Unit School District 300 in Algonquin, Ill., was facing a pretty daunting challenge across its 26 schools. When it came to recording the inventory of assets like textbooks, some of the district’s numbers were incorrect. “We’d start a new school year thinking that we had the appropriate supplies for our students, only to find out that our inventory system didn’t reflect what we actually had on hand,” said Susan Harkin, chief operating officer for the 26-school, 21,000-student district.

A student who wasn’t matched up with an algebra book, for example, would often have to wait a week or two for it to be ordered and delivered to the classroom. And for some of the outdated books that are no longer being published, the district could spend months trying to hunt down the textbooks. “Students would start the school year without a textbook to refer to for homework,” said Harkin. “It wasn’t a good situation for a district that’s focused on student success.”

Harkin says the schools’ curriculum and instructional personnel were particularly concerned about the gaps that existed between the inventory system and the actual inventory. At the time, D300 was most concerned about textbooks, although it also wanted to improve the tracking of district-owned assets such as tablet computers and musical instruments.

Finances were another driver, says Harkin, who notes that her district spends $2,500 less than the state average per student. “Assets and resources are tight,” she added, “so everyone wants to do his or her part in helping to make sure we’re using our resources efficiently and effectively.”

Next page: A software solution to keep track

A district-wide initiative

While searching for a solution to its asset management problem, the district found one possible answer right in its own educational technology stable. Already using Follett Learning’s Destiny Resource Manager, the district started leveraging the platform’s physical inventory capabilities. Using the web-based system, teachers and administrators can view current inventory levels and locations, manage the inventory, and more efficiently plan for resource expenditures. They can also reallocate assets to different schools, thus reducing redundancies and stockouts.

Harkin’s team began by conducting a complete asset inventory. The process was handled by a dedicated team of staff members for whom “the management and movement of those assets” were part of their part of their job duties, she said. Finally, the district installed a new staff person to oversee asset management from the central office and coordinate the process across D300’s 26 schools.

As a component of the physical inventorying process, D300 weeded out books that weren’t part of its curriculum. “Why track assets that don’t matter to us anymore?” Harkin asked. In addition, the district shifted its textbook ownership philosophy from “building level” to “district level.” Because textbooks are now a district item, if a building has an overstock of 100 books, those assets can more easily be moved to another school as needed.

On the financial side, Harkin estimates that the district saves “a couple hundred thousand dollars per year now,” with most of the savings coming from its ability to more accurately track assets across its schools. In the past, for example, institutions with growing enrollment numbers would simply buy textbooks, not knowing that another school with declining enrollment numbers had the needed assets sitting in its storeroom.

“In the past, schools would hold onto them because they already paid for the books and didn’t want to give them up,” said Harkin. “By taking ownership across all of our schools, we’ve been able to make asset management a true, district-wide initiative that everyone is now onboard with.”

No more paper and faxing

With 230 schools and over 150,000 students, Dallas Independent School District relied on an antiquated asset management system that resided at the district office and accommodated just four user logins. When they needed textbooks, teachers would have to fill out handwritten forms and fax them to the office, where someone else would input the information and place the order. And while the previous system was used to maintain inventory, the fact that only four people could access it made it cumbersome and far from collaborative.

Next page: Data helps track assets

“We needed a new solution to bring us into the modern times,” said Matt Tyner, manager of textbook services. Other asset management challenges plaguing the district included a lack of system data, no automation, and low visibility over textbook inventory across its many campuses. “My predecessor had been here for 25 years, so when I came onboard in 2011 it was definitely time to automate and streamline these largely manual processes.”

After putting out a request for proposal (RFP) that attracted bids from two different software vendors, Dallas ISD decided to implement a textbook inventory management solution from Hayes Software Systems. Key criteria included a system that would provide the district with real-time data and that would offer a district-wide platform that all parties could use via any internet-enabled device or computer. “We needed something that would replace the phone calls we were getting on every single issue and question,” said Tyner.

Functional capabilities

Dallas ISD’s textbook inventory management solution handles functions like the requisition of instructional materials, the return of instructional materials to the warehouse, campus textbook inventory, a repository for lost and used books, and an easy way to transfer materials among campuses. All of the activities take place online and can be access 24/7 on an as-needed basis.

According to Tyner, the system has helped the district improve its inventory tracking and real-time accountability — two things that were largely handled on a manual basis before 2011. “Our teachers and principals really had to jump through hoops to find their books, write up their orders, fax them in, and then monitor the order progress,” said Tyner. “This is just a much simpler way to get all of that done.”

To districts that are struggling to get a handle on their school-owned assets, Harkin said the first step is simply admitting that this is one of the “hidden issues” that isn’t always talked about or discussed — but it does exist and can be both expensive and time consuming. “If you really want to be responsible with your textbooks, you have to admit that you have a problem and that you’re willing to tackle it collectively,” she said. “It may require an initial investment in time and money, but if you keep ignoring the problem it’s only going to get worse.”

Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.

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