An Educational Mission
“Just being in the room when decisions are being made, a lot of times, is the biggest challenge” for in-plants, declares Chuck Werninger, director of Administrative Services at the Houston Independent School District (HISD). “A lot of shops are deleted from the plan before they ever hear about the plan.”
A lifelong printer and veteran of two in-plants, Werninger does not intend to be deleted. Affable, talkative and inquisitive, he has gotten himself invited to many school district meetings where crucial issues are discussed—including the in-plant’s role in HISD’s digital transformation initiative.
“We work on the district’s digital transformation initiative every day but use print to fill in the gaps and where it’s the best choice,” he notes.
Hired by HISD’s Office of Communications in August of 2013, Werninger quickly found himself reporting to IT after a realignment. This has worked well for him, allowing him to contribute to HISD strategies and help IT better serve the school district.
HISD Administrative Services is the country’s largest K-12 in-plant, with 56 employees—40 of them in Printing Services—and sales of approximately $4.5 million. It serves the nation’s seventh largest school district, and the largest district in the Lone Star State. A two-time winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education, HISD comprises 283 schools serving 215,000 students over a 301-square-mile area.
One downside of the vast distances between schools is that classroom printing has long eluded the in-plant. In the pre-Internet past, Werninger says, the difficulty of dropping off jobs at the in-plant prompted teachers to avoid using it. And since the in-plant back then preferred to focus on marketing pieces, newsletters, program booklets and other administrative work, it did not provide very good service for teachers, Werninger says. So teachers have been spending a lot of their time in front of copiers. He estimates that the in-plant handles only about 5 percent of the district’s overall copy volume, with teachers and staff doing the rest themselves.
“And they probably are not happy about having to do that,” he says.
But Werninger and his department have a plan to change all that.
“My team is focused on providing a first-class customer experience for the teachers, students and parents of this great district,” he says. “Working in partnership with IT, we’re building a system whereby they can spend their time teaching rather than doing their printing. We’re engaging our stakeholders and building the road map that will take us where they need us to be far in the future. They’re counting on us to get it right.”
Supporting School Strategies
Being part of IT has been advantageous for Administrative Services, bringing it closer to some of the infrastructure decisions impacting the in-plant. It has also put Werninger and his team in the right position to lend their expertise to HISD enterprises, such as modernizing and streamlining the district’s MFD fleet. Administrative Services worked closely with Procurement and IT to specify and select a solution that improves quality for the users, works well as a system and saves money for the entire district. This type of cross-disciplinary partnership, he explains, is required for projects of this size.
Though the installation of about 1,200 devices (including 191 color devices) is still in progress, Werninger’s involvement gave him the opportunity to visit a lot of schools and build some good relationships. He also learned, depressingly, that many people didn’t know the in-plant existed, an indication of the long road ahead.
To lay the ground work for bringing in more print jobs from schools, Werninger is being proactive.
“I’ve charged my customer service people with visiting every school in person once a year and calling every school once a month,” he says.
He lauds the dedication of Customer Service Manager Debbie Roberts, whose industry experience and 11 years of service to the district play a key role in the in-plant’s success.
“She’s leading the effort to focus the majority of our customer service efforts on the needs of the teachers, principals and departments of the district,” Werninger points out.
He recognizes, though, that the more successful the in-plant is in doing this, the more changes that will be required in his shop’s capabilities.
“We’re trying to make it easier for them to send us simple copying jobs,” he notes. “When we do that correctly, demand will explode, and our production systems, personnel and equipment will have to be prepared.”
Currently, the in-plant relies on a five-year-old four-color Presstek 52DI direct imaging offset press for the bulk of its long-run four-color work.
“It is fantastic,” Werninger praises. “We run it 10 to 12 hours a day, year round. It is so efficient. So productive.”
This is aided by a two-color, 20x26˝ Komori Sprint 226P press, which, though 27 years old, still comes in handy for printing on larger sheet sizes, such as for long runs of posters. A pocket folder produced on the Komori just won a Gold award in the In-Print 2015 contest. It was run through the press twice to print all four colors.
This award, Werninger says, is a testament to his hard-working, dedicated team of employees—22 of whom have worked for HISD more than 10 years; 11 have been with the district more than 20 years.
“We’ve got a great team,” he lauds. “They are really committed to what we do, and they believe in what we do.”
He also credits Reba Jelks, who manages the McCarty printing plant, for her knowledge, leadership and 24 years of stellar service to the district.
“She’s playing a critical role in the improvements to our production workflow that will make us successful in coming years,” he lauds.
The in-plant’s digital printing capabilities also play an important part in its success. The operation uses a Ricoh PRO C751 color printer, four Xerox Nuveras and an Océ Varioprint 6160. The shop has three aqueous wide-format printers, as well, and prints numerous posters and banners. The in-plant also handles inserting, addressing, sorting and processing of district mail.
Records management is another area overseen by Administrative Services. That operation is currently scanning millions of personnel files, transcripts, graduation records and other documents for archival. Older documents are shredded on the department’s two shredders.
“After documents have passed their approved retention schedule and their owner has approved them for destruction, we shred them and provide their owner certificates of destruction,” Werninger explains.
HISD’s 16,000-square-foot printing plant is 11 miles away from Werninger’s office, a trip that can take more than an hour in Houston traffic. There is a small copy shop in the administration building where he is located, and another inside Houston’s City Hall. HISD handles printing for the City of Houston, a type of facilities management operation. Though the in-plant still insources work from other municipalities and school districts “when time and resources are available,” Werninger says that there is less of a focus on revenue generation these days than there was in the past.
“Right now what this district most needs from its printing operation is for us to support the core mission, which is teaching,” he proclaims.
He plans to continue working with IT to facilitate this, gradually allowing teachers to stop making copies and spend more time teaching.
“Our customer number one is a teacher,” he says, “and I believe we can win their hearts by making [it] easy to focus on what they do.”
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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 nearly 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.