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LPS printing center has its job down pat

LPS printing center has its job down pat

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The obvious result of the inferno at 59th and O streets two years ago is the new Lincoln Public Schools headquarters and soon-to-open Whole Foods that greets motorists driving down the city’s main thoroughfare.

A less noticeable result of the fire that destroyed the old district office building sits five miles away in a nondescript building at Fifth and South streets. Called the distribution center, it is the hub of everything that comes in and goes out of LPS — and the beneficiary of 6,000 square feet of remodeled space.

The $780,000 remodel created a new print center for the district, replacing the cramped and crowded space at the old district office — a small, outdated room that for five years housed a new printing system that changed the way the district handled the millions of worksheets, report cards, programs and tests it prints each year.

The $1.8 million contract LPS signed with Xerox to centralize its printing system in 2006 was a sea change for the district’s nearly 3,000 teachers who were used to printing the lion’s share of their own work, often on printers in their classrooms.

Under the new system, they order jobs online, and the printing center does the copying, cutting, folding, stapling and collating, then delivers the finished products to teachers in 60-some buildings.

It was a rough change and a steep learning curve — and even as teachers got used to the system, the eight employees at the print shop had to work in an area not designed to handle the workload.

“If we were on one machine, we couldn’t run the cutter,” recalled Lynnette Losh, print center and mailroom manager.

After the fire, the print center moved to the city-owned Experian building where there was ample space, though a subfloor couldn’t bear the weight of the pallets of paper so not much could be stored there.

Today, the print center is big enough to handle the machines and 2,500-pound pallets — and it’s connected to the distribution center that handles the deliveries and stores all the supplies the print shop needs.

“It’s taken awhile but we’re pretty much a well-oiled machine,” said Jay Lawson, the general store supervisor for the district. “We’re where we would have liked to have been for a long time.”

* * *

The well-oiled operation has eight employees and eight machines — named after Peanuts characters — that print, copy, collate, cut, fold and print hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper each day.

It does so with Charlie Brown, a 38-foot machine that runs 288 copies per minute. And Lucy, which turns loose papers into books, and Sally, which can fold papers in half or thirds in a split second.

The center’s machines turn scrap paper into notepads, punch holes for plastic binders and attach the plastic binders to paper, and turn sheets of paper into pamphlets and programs and booklets.

The print center runs in two shifts from 8 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., plus weekends at the start of the school year. 

Last year, the district made 94 million impressions — copies or prints, some double-sided. Sixty to 70 percent of those were made at the print center.

It is a massive undertaking.

The center gets 2,000 to 3,000 orders a day, and print specialist Pam Johnson runs a computer that organizes all of the orders for employees who make more than 300,000 impressions a day.

Orders received by 3 p.m. are in teachers’ mailboxes by 7:30 the next morning, Losh said.

Finished jobs are put into boxes assigned to each school and color-coded for three mail routes that drivers pick up at 4:30 each morning.

Having the print shop at the distribution center saves fuel because drivers don't have to go to different locations to pick up jobs or to deliver print supplies. 

“Just having the facility in this building is a definite increase in efficiency,” Lawson said.

* * *

Getting to that point, however, was a process — and not always easy.

Centralization meant teachers no longer had their own printers. They had to learn the online ordering system, and at first, orders didn’t always get to the schools by deadline.

Now, Losh said, the error rate is 1 percent. And teachers can send orders from home, or on evenings and weekends, and more of their work is stored electronically.

A centralized system allowed the district to get rid of outdated fax machines, printers and copiers, leasing 578 devices from Xerox, which replaces them regularly.

Having the print shop do much of the work also freed para-educators — who used to do a lot of the printing, folding and stapling — for other work, Technology Director Kirk Langer said.

Overall, he said, the district has saved money through the centralized system. Initially, it anticipated saving about $250,000 a year. The district has done annual evaluations but those numbers weren't available last week.

But when it started, schools balked as their printing budgets rose.

Printing didn’t really cost more, Langer said, but because all the costs associated with printing were now contained in one price per impression — toner, maintenance and replacement costs — it increased their budgets.  

The district eased the pain by subsidizing school budgets with about $500,000 of general fund money each year, he said, but will begin funneling that money — and associated costs — back to the schools.

That will allow officials to keep better tabs on the true cost of copying and printing and may encourage schools to rely even more on the print shop. Xerox charges less for copies made at the print shop than those on machines in the schools.

As the district converts to digital curriculum, it will become more important to track printing costs to evaluate the impact of digital learning, Langer said, since doing more online should mean less reliance on printing and copying. 

In the meantime, the printing center has its job down pat.

“It’s the best it’s ever been, and I’ve been here 23 years,” Lawson said.

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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