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Schools staff working to save time, money


By Lucas Simonds
The Times Leader

Monday, February 27, 2017

Pitt County Schools staff said they are working in a number of areas to make the county’s schools more efficient in order to save time and money.

Staff from the finance and operations departments reported to the Pitt County Board of Education about a number ongoing efficiency projects Feb. 20 at the board’s work session meeting.

In finance, staff members are implementing a number of electronic solutions to cut down on paper and speed up the process of making payments and providing financial information.

One major change has been implementing a program called Cook Spreadsheets, which allows principals to always have up-to-date information on the money they have available at their school.

“Previously, we would get information to schools on a monthly basis with a printout,” said Debra Baggett, Pitt County Schools’ chief financial officer. “Cook Spreadsheets gives them real-time data. As we pay a bill, they can see it. As opposed to getting a report once a month with their balance, they can pull up the spreadsheet, hit refresh, and it’s going to show them what’s there. If they wait an hour and refresh again, anything that we key in that time will be there.”

Twenty schools in the district have begun using the software, which helps principals to better understand their finances and budget, Baggett added.

The finance department also has implemented direct deposit payments for travel reimbursements, which saves time compared to printing and mailing checks, Baggett said.

In the future, the department hopes to implement electronic payments to vendors and for payments from 403(b) and 457 investment plans, Baggett added.

“We had 350 travel reimbursements, and in one day we got 120 sent electronically and no one had to sit for three hours stuffing envelopes,” Baggett said. “It’s a lot less time, and we’re trying to work smarter.”

In operations, the district’s ongoing energy efficiency efforts with Cenergistic have led to 20 schools earning an Energy Star certification, which is not an easy task, according to Matt Johnson, Pitt County Schools’ executive director of operations.

“Less than 25,000 commercial buildings in the United States are Energy Star certified buildings. So, to have 20 of our schools at this point, and we’re hoping to get to all 37, is pretty good for us,” Johnson said.

The 20 schools that earned the certification this year include Northwest, Wintergreen, Lakeforest, H.B. Sugg, Ayden, Belvoir, Eastern and Creekside elementary schools, Farmville, Ayden, C.M. Eppes and Hope middle schools, J.H. Rose, Farmville Central, Ayden-Grifton, D.H. Conley and North Pitt high schools and Grifton and G.R. Whitfield K-8 schools.

The operations department has also been busy updating the phone system at schools around the county, a project that is projected to save the county significant money when complete, according to Johnson.

The phones have been upgraded from the traditional system connected to copper wiring to a new digital system that operates on the district’s fiber optic network at nine locations so far, including Chicod School, C.M. Eppes, Elmhurst Elementary School, Facilities Services, Sadie Saulter Pre-K Center, Belvoir Elementary, Northwest Elementary, H.B. Sugg Elementary and Sam D. Bundy Elementary School, according to Johnson.

The total cost to replace the phone systems at those locations has been approximately $32,000, but the district has saved approximately $13,000 through the removal of copper wiring, Johnson said.

The cost of replacing all the phones is the district is projected at $210,000, with an estimated savings of $107,000 per year from the removal of unneeded copper wiring, Johnson added.

In addition to saving money, the new phone system offers a variety of features, such as online call history and voicemail, an easier system for connecting calls to classrooms, better call quality and a higher possible number of simultaneous calls, as many as 350 for all schools combined, according to Johnson.

The phones upgrade project is slated to be complete by 2019, pending the availability of funding.

The Times Leader serves southern Pitt County including the towns of Ayden, Grifton and Winterville.