When you give North Penn School District residents a chance to help the marred school district budget, you should expect them to jump at the chance.
Even if those residents aren’t taxpayers.
High school student Nick Haddad had a proposal where the district could save $112,000 a year on printer ink, all by switching to a different font.
Another student, Torrey Wente, discovered the district could save $4,400 a year in energy costs by using LED lights in the auditorium.
A consortium of school leaders—North Penn High School principal Burt Hynes, Allyn Roche, North Penn High School vice principal Neil Broxterman, John Strobel, district finance director Bob Schoch, athletic director Don Ryan and Bill Bartle—proposed a plan to charge user fees for various items that would increase revenues each year.
These were just three of more than 60 proposals during the district’s first “Innovation Celebration” at Penndale Middle School Monday night.
More than 60 taxpayers and district employess—and two students— exhibited their proposals to increase revenues and decrease costs in the school budget.
“Everywhere you go will be an idea for decreasing costs, increasing revenues and advancing productivity,” said district communications specialist Christine Liberaski. “You name it, we have it.”
Some ideas presented Monday night are ready to be implemented now, while others need to start a year from now.
Each attendee was given a sheet of green, red and yellow dots. These dots were to be placed at each exhibit to represent, respectively, if an idea was good to go, if the idea needed more work, or if the idea was dead in the water.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the response,” said Superintendent Curt Dietrich. “It shows the community and teachers and support personnel are all engaged in meeting a new economic reality.”
Dietrich said the district cannot have “business as usual” due to state funding issues with the budget.
“To see the community engagement and student engagement to solve the problem is gratifying to me,” he said.
The goal post-celebration is to take those ideas that the community responded to with positive feedback and figure out what can work for the district.
“We will see which need additional time and which will need to be discarded because there’s no support,” Dietrich said.
The Innovation Celebration was the brainchild of Schoch. He brought the idea to the district cabinet, Dietrich said.
“The cabinet enthusiastically embraced it, and this is where we are tonight,” he said. “It fits in real well with the idea of community engagement. The school exists because of the community and its involvement. We need them to help manage the budget challenge.”
Dietrich said the district cannot continue to count on tax increases and statewide solutions.
“We need solutions in our own community to balance the budget,” he said.
For his proposal, Haddad tested different fonts to see how much ink each font used. He tested fonts that are the most commonly used, like Times New Roman and Arial, and tested unusual fonts, like Eco, which is a font with holes in the letters.
When the Eco font is printed to a small type size, one cannot tell the letters have holes in them.
Just switching to that font, according to Haddad, could save the district 26 percent in ink.
The district spends $432,000 on ink each year, he said.
With his proposed switch, the district can save $112,000 each year.
“That can pay for two salaries for teachers or computers,” he said.
Haddad was inspired by messing around with fonts for a paper he was writing for class.
He noticed how the length of the essay would change whenever he switched to other fonts.
“I wanted to know how much ink each font uses,” he said.
So he developed a chart where he measured the amount of ink used in each cubic centimeter of font.
He said everybody thought the proposal was a great idea. The best part, he said, is there are no negative aspects to it.
“It would cost no money to download, and it would be simple to install,” he said of the Eco font. “And it doesn’t affect the readability of the text.”
Holly Duncan, a teacher at Northbridge School, thought the proposal was awesome and completely simplistic.
“If the costs benefits are what he said they would be, that’s three teachers’ salaries, if you have no master’s degree,” Duncan said.
Duncan said the Innovation Celebration was a great idea for the community.
“I appreciate (Dietrich’s) outreach to the community and to the teachers. There’s a lot more communication now than my first year in the district,” she said. “It’s nice to know what’s going on.”
Other proposals included a labor saving equipment idea that called for mowing lawns less frequently, buying larger mowers, and installing employee self-service software to update personnel records.
The proposal by the consortium of school administrators called for $40 increases in summer school fees for students and out-of-district individuals that could bring in $8,800 in revenues.
Their proposal also called for having 10th and 11th grade students sign up and pay $25 for the PSATs instead of the district shelling out $14 a test, saving $29,300.
There was also a proposal to increase athletic tickets and theater tickets by $2 to generate $44,600 in revenue, and a proposal to implement picture IDs for students and staff and charge for such, generating $3,950 in revenue.
“The potential savings are there,” said Roche. “We want to reduce the need to cut programs or curtail programs. This is one step to see how the community feels and get their opinion on ideas.”
High school senior Wente’s idea is to cut the district’s spending costs of $6,300 a year to light the 303 fixtures in the auditorium at the high school down to $1,063 a year by installing LED lights.
“The issue with the idea,” he said, “is the LED has a high implementation cost of $33,000,” Wente said.
He said the district will get a return in six years; the district wants a two-year return in its expenses.
“They will spend $182,169 in the auditorium over 27 years. This will save them $120,740 over 27 years,” he said, adding the lifespan of an LED bulb is 27 years.
Wente thought the celebration was a great idea.
“It opens it to the community, and the school board isn’t doing this by themselves,” he said.
Wente’s parents, Kristen and Kurt, said their son’s proposal was “right up his alley.”
“I love this,” Kristen Wente said of the event. “I love the fact that it’s packed to the gills. There are so many interested in how to make the district so much more efficient.”
Schoch said the event exceeded expectations in terms of the number of people and the type of discussions.
He said he suggested this same event 10 years ago in another school district, and it worked out the same.
“It’s good to give people something very positive to focus on,” he said. “The ideas here are worth $5 million in a tough budget.”
He said chosen proposals would be applied to next year’s budget.
“It’s a matter of potential savings,” he said, “and how quickly we can achieve it.”