Curriculum Materials: A Gold Mine for Iowa School District
When Forrest McGuire took over as Printing Services Supervisor at Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) in 2018, print volumes at the six-employee in-plant were substantially lower than they are today. The shop relied on five copiers and two AB Dick 9800s with T-heads to print about 13 million impressions a year, and its operating costs were supplemented heavily by chargeback revenue from the copier and desktop printer fleet. McGuire knew this was not a sustainable arrangement.
“I knew I needed to increase print volume,” McGuire says — particularly digital print volume.
Three-and-a-half years later, his in-plant is pumping out 31.5 million 8.5x11" impressions per year, 80% of which are curriculum materials for the 31,000-student district — student workbooks, teachers’ guides, readers, assessments, task cards, and more. Offset is out, and the shop is now powered by seven digital presses, the newest a Canon varioPRINT 6220 Titan, installed a year ago. The shop’s increased production has made it nearly self-sufficient, no longer as dependent on revenue from the walk-up copiers.
The move into curriculum materials was a wise one for Printing Services, increasing both its volume and its value to the district. It’s a move that a growing number of K-12 in-plants are making.
Among school district in-plants surveyed recently by IPI (see page 20), 100% are printing course materials, up from just 45% in our 2019 survey. One reason is because of a move toward open-source curriculum materials at K-12 schools to avoid the high cost of textbooks. Though these materials are available for online use, many districts want their students to have printed materials, which is where the opportunity for in-plants has exploded. The cost savings of printing these materials in-house versus buying printed books from a publisher is tremendous. McGuire estimates his in-plant saves the district $1 million per year by printing workbooks in-house instead of buying them from the publisher. The shop prints the exact quantities needed, reducing waste from over-ordering.
A Cautious Start
Getting this business was not a sure thing for DMPS Printing Services. When McGuire and his boss met with the district’s curriculum director two-and-a-half years ago and suggested printing these materials in-house, their pitch did not generate much enthusiasm.
“That didn’t really seem to go anywhere initially,” McGuire recalls. “But then, six to eight months later, they approached us.”
The curriculum department had a very large job and asked if the in-plant could handle it.
“It was huge, and it was going to stretch us, and it was going to be an amazing challenge for us as a department,” McGuire says. “But we said ‘yes, we’ll do it.’”
He had to bring in extra labor to handle the hand-coiling of thousands of teachers’ manuals, but the in-plant got it done on time.
“Our ability to deliver it, that obviously proved something to them, and so I think they became more comfortable,” he says.
Since then, curriculum work has continued to flow into the in-plant.
“We regularly meet with curriculum coordinators and talk through how can we improve it,” he says.
The in-plant makes adjustments so teachers and students will get the most benefit out of the materials.
From Coil to Saddle Stitching
One change has been a switch from coil binding to saddle stitching for student materials to save on labor. The shop’s five Konica Minolta AccurioPress 6136 black-and-white printers are equipped with square-back binders. The in-plant also utilizes Konica Minolta AccurioPress C6100 and C2060 color printers, along with the new Canon varioPRINT 6220 Titan, which also has a square-back binder.
“We’ve actually printed over three million [11x17"] impressions on that new device alone this year ,” remarks McGuire.
As many impressions as curriculum has brought, there is room to grow this business even more, he says. His shop currently prints only math and English literacy materials, not science and social studies, which utilize a lot more color.
McGuire feels strongly that inkjet will be the next step for his in-plant because it will enable low-cost color printing, as well as increased productivity and lower costs.
“We have to move to inkjet … to be competitive [and] to continue getting that curriculum work,” he says. “It also can allow us to bring color into the classroom, which is huge. Historically it’s been black and white, but that’s always been [because of] cost.”
In this line of thinking he is not alone. Nationwide, at least a half dozen other school district in-plants have already transitioned to production inkjet presses to provide curriculum materials to their students. Each year the Inkjet Summit draws numerous applicants from the K-12 sector. McGuire himself attended in 2021.
“The thing about in-plants is, we have to stay relevant,” he notes. “[Inkjet] will open a whole other realm of potential for us.”
Though 80% of the in-plant’s impressions are curriculum materials, the shop also prints postcards, business cards, pamphlets, statements, magazines, diplomas, flip cards, programs, envelopes, and other items. Its HP PageWide XL 4100 MFP and Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000S aqueous wide-format printers produce wall graphics, stickers, signage, adhesive vinyl, and more. It even used the Canon to print student graduation photos on satin photo paper. The shop takes in jobs via PrintNet cloud-based Web-to-print software, but is in the process of switching to EFI MarketDirect StoreFront.
Despite how busy his operation is, McGuire feels it could still get more business from staff who aren’t even aware of Printing Services’ capabilities. Earlier in the pandemic, he says, when customers would come to the shop to pick up orders, some were shocked to see how large the operation was.
“I think they all thought it was one or two copiers … in a closet,” he says. “Walking into a shop and seeing all this production has opened their eyes. I feel like if we can get people in here, they’ll realize this is more than just your copier in your office.”
To market the in-plant, McGuire gives presentations at meetings, visits customers to discuss their projects, and hands out pocket folders filled with samples of the shop’s work. He also promotes the operation’s accomplishments with Facebook posts.
Though McGuire has plans to expand the shop’s wide-format business and perhaps add a flatbed printer, curriculum printing is the opportunity of the moment, and will likely remain so for years to come.
“It’s definitely the future of our department,” he says.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.