Louisiana School System Considers Tech to Cut Costs

A consultant has recommended the East Baton Rouge Parish school system ditch a number of manual and paper systems and replace them with software to reduce overhead expenses in the face of dwindling enrollment.

by Charles Lussier, The Advocate / May 15, 2019

(TNS) — As the East Baton Rouge Parish school system struggles to balance its books amid dwindling enrollment and growing competition from charter schools, the parish School Board heard Tuesday from a consultant who has some ideas for making the school system operate better and save some money in the process.

Byron Headrick, a founder of LEAN Frog, a consulting firm based in Huntsville, Alabama, suggested, among other things, ditching paper for digital records, automating invoicing and timekeeping, embedding software personnel in the departments they serve, limiting car trips between offices by greater use of communications tools the district already pays for, creating student-led help desks for tech problems and reworking the district organization chart so that fewer top administrators oversee more terrain.

Headrick did not estimate how much money all this might save but promised to supply a detailed estimate soon.

After the meeting, Headrick pegged the likely savings in the millions, “single digits,” but said his suggestions are just as much about making the school system work better so that classrooms operate better. While it may not fill the immediate budget hole — last estimate puts it at about $25 million — the improvements, if enacted, would help lead to a better education system.

“This is the type of stuff that is really your long-term solution,” Headrick said.

Superintendent Warren Drake said he’s implemented a few of the recommendations and is working on others. Other recommendations would cost substantial money before any savings are realized, such as an automated timekeeping system and a new Central Office instead of 26 smaller administrative offices. And some recommendations he plans to leave to his successor; Drake plans to retire in June 2020.

Drake said Headrick and his firm did a good job: “I think this is very good and it sets us on a track to do even better."

Board President Mike Gaudet, who spent his career as an executive at Albemarle, also complimented Headrick.

“Thank you very much. Outstanding work,” Gaudet said.

LEAN Frog, at a cost of almost $65,000, spent the past seven months reviewing the organization of Louisiana’s second-largest school district and dug more deeply into the areas of human resources, technology and business operations.

“They picked those departments because those departments support the rest of the system,” Headrick said. “And if you fix the problems in those departments it improves the overall system.”

Drake said he plans later this year to do his own “deeper dives” into problem areas Headrick examined, specifically student transportation and substitute teachers.

Headrick said he’s been sharing what he’s been finding with Drake and the department leaders, as well with board leadership.

“Nothing is a surprise in this,” Headrick said.

LEAN Frog, which was founded in 2009, has worked with many school districts in Alabama and Tennessee. More recently, it has done work for districts in Ascension and St. Helena parishes. Drake said he learned about the firm from Ascension Parish Superintendent David Alexander.

In looking for ways organizations can become more efficient and effective, LEAN Frog uses an approach common in the industrial world called “Lean Six Sigma.” That approach involves “a detailed analysis of job duties, organizational structure, performance data, interviews with administrators and staff, onsite observation of work processes, and workflow analysis.”

Where possible, LEAN Frog compares performance data against national norms.

LEAN Frog recommendations include:

Pursue more grants, saying the school system lags behind its peers, but be careful not to get grants that would cause problems after the grant money runs out.

Create a dashboard to track how departments are performing: “Very little data is used in noninstructional areas to review and monitor performance.”

Set up an “employee energy savings awareness program” to foster more energy efficient behavior.

Make better use of SchoolDude, the program in which employees submit work requests for technology, by coming up with better repair categories and using auto-routing to get work tickets to the right people.

Headrick also stressed that the school system desperately needs to update its six-year-old strategic plan.

“You have a big goal in there but you don’t have any incremental steps,” he said. “The end result of that is you don’t really know if those goals are really driving the needle like you intended.”

©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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