K-12 In-plants Deluged with Work During COVID-19
(An excerpt from IPI’s upcoming magazine coverage of the COVID-19 crisis.)
While most college and university in-plants are reporting a drastic drop in their workloads, all K-12 in-plants contacted by IPI have been incredibly busy during the COVID-19 crisis. Why such a difference?
Chuck Werninger, senior manager of Administrative Services at Houston Independent School District attributes it to the way these institutions have approached elearning up to this point, both due to the age and economic situations of students. Higher-ed students, who have paid for their education, are eager to continue learning and have quickly adapted to online classes, something they’re already familiar with.
“Your average eight-year-old is not consuming wifi education and submitting homework assignments that way,” points out Werninger. Many young students are poor and have neither laptops nor Internet available. Even those that do are not as invested in online education as college students. Printed learning materials have become essential in this time of shuttered schools – and in-plants are in overdrive trying to print it all.
“We’ve extended to 24 hours a day, and we are struggling to keep up,” says Werninger, whose in-plant was suddenly tasked with printing student course packets for all of the district’s 287 schools, under very tight deadlines.
In Western Washington, Tacoma Public Schools’ in-plant is similarly awash in work.“Our in-plant went into overtime producing curriculum packets,” says Printing & Graphics Coordinator Mike Griswold. “The first round was 1.8 million impressions.” The second round: 3.8 million.
Omaha Public Schools Printing & Publications Services was called into action to print 2.6 million pages worth of lesson packets for elementary and special education students. In-plant employees worked seven days a week for 18-20 hours per day using both their Xerox Brenva and Baltoro inkjet presses.
The massive volume of pages ultimately forced the in-plant to get assistance from a commercial vendor to complete the job, giving Manager Steve Priesman an opportunity to compare the cost difference.
“Ultimately, we determined that the cost of the internal production, which included significant overtime, was around 5 cents per page,” wrote Priesman in an email. “The cost of the production done commercially was around 15 cents per page.”
The operation continues to use its inkjet presses to print packets for pickup by parents at one of seven sites throughout Omaha. Food is also being distributed to students at these sites.
“In addition, we’ve called staff back to work on signs — typical wide-format vinyl banners — for our playgrounds and fields,” Priesman adds. “Unfortunately, with good weather we see children playing on playground equipment and congregating on playing fields. The signs are intended to remind the public that the equipment should not be used, and social distancing is critical.”
At HISD, in addition to curriculum materials, Printing Services has also been asked to print, insert, and mail a quarter million report cards. Though the shop’s Canon VarioPrint i300 inkjet press is up to the task, “We don’t do many quarter million runs,” attests Werninger.
In normal times, the in-plant prints report card shells, and the schools imprint personal information on each. Now Printing Services will print all that variable data. Werninger is optimistic that the current pandemic will serve to open the eyes of faculty and staff at HISD to the importance of the in-plant.
“I’m hoping for us that this is going to cause us to get a … better equipment package and encourage more internal printing,” he says. Currently, Printing Services prints only 5% of the district’s printing, he says, with the bulk being done by teachers using the copiers in their schools. With schools all closed, teachers are now forced to send that work to Werninger’s operation, giving the in-plant an opportunity to shine.
“I’ve long argued for the fact that the principals and the teachers are experts in educating kids. I want them to focus on that,” he says. “Why don’t we let the printers do the printing?”
Looking ahead to the summer, Werninger anticipates a surge in summer school enrollment this year, and a continued need for printed materials.
“My guess is it’s not going to die down at our normal … lull of activity between June 1 and July 15,” he predicts.