School Printing Budgets Show Their True Colors


For education technology decision-makers and implementers, there are a large number of familiar output choices for teachers, administrators and directors when upgrading their current classroom and administrative printing technology needs. These include ink jet, monochrome laser and color laser printers. While these products all offer excellent print quality, technology implementers may not always consider the significant after-purchase costs associated with the ongoing operation of these printers. So, what seems like a smart, low-cost acquisition up front, may, in hindsight, turn out to be a higher cost decision over the long term — resulting in an unforeseen budget impact that could have been avoided.

With continually increasing budgetary restraints and the need to ensure a sound return on all technology investments, implementing a cost-effective document output solution is taking on an increased importance. Last year, for example, one Detroit school district was looking to reduce part of its $2.3 million deficit by removing copiers and setting up a centralized printing operation that would allow everyone to make their own copies. Because it is likely to receive the same level of scrutiny as other so-called "nonessential" purchases, printing is a line item that technology coordinators must be prepared to justify readily.

Maximizing Resources, Controlling Costs

Over the last 10 years, a noticeable shift has taken place within the education market from being an almost exclusive user of Apple systems to more of a PC and Mac blend. Along with this change, many classrooms have generally progressed from dot matrix printers to color ink jet, monochrome laser and, in some cases, color laser printers.

Despite the fact that color ink jets produce great output quality and have the capability to print in color or monochrome, often overlooked is their cost per page and impact on long-term operating costs. For many budget-constrained school districts, and even wealthier school districts, the dollars for supporting output in the classroom can reach unanticipated levels. This results in a competition with other spending priorities within districts.

For this reason, many educators are rethinking their strategy, instead considering monochrome and color laser printers. When looking at the whole picture, including initial acquisition costs, price per page, need for printer sharing and cost of supplies, educators reach the inevitable conclusion that due to their high reliability, ease of sharing and low output costs, monochrome and color laser printers are best suited for basic everyday printing within school environments.

There is a variety of configurations that can be deployed in a way that is cost-effective, because it's essential to maximize resources and control costs. These configurations include network-ready laser models for computer labs or classroom networks, and stand-alone models for desktop or administrative uses. Also, since most models are PC and Mac compatible, they will fit seamlessly into any existing environment. If there are situations where color is required, a network-ready color laser printer can be made available to all users throughout the building who need higher volume color printing.

Printer Considerations

School districts that have recently gone through this process may be able to provide insight as to the issues and considerations that led them to implement a new collection of printers to address many of the points raised here.

One K-12 school district needed to update its printer technology, because the district was still using dot matrix printers throughout its schools. In this case, the district chose to integrate a network-ready monochrome laser printer. These printers were selected for their low initial acquisition cost, integrated network print server and low long-term operating costs. The printer selected was deployed in administrative offices and classrooms.

In another K-12 school district, the individual schools and users were given the choice of either ink jet, monochrome laser or color laser printers. Although the decision for which type of printer was left up to the users, the percentage of laser printers selected shifted in favor of ink jet printers. Among the reasons cited for this shift were the lower long-term operating cost and the ability to easily share the printers over the network.

Technology coordinators may want to take the experiences of these other school districts into account and consider how it applies to their own situation. The issues schools need to consider when choosing the printer technology that is best for them include:

  • How much total printing is done on a monthly basis?
  • Which operating environment(s) are used? Is there a mixed-platform user environment of PCs and Macs?
  • What is the realistic cost per page of operating the device?
  • What percentage of the monthly output is in color?
  • Are classrooms networked? Is there a single network throughout the building, or is the network departmental?
  • Is there a single printer-per-user workstation, or can a printer be shared?
  • Are controlling output costs and reining in operating expenses a big priority?

Just as the traditional idea of a classroom with rows of students facing a chalkboard has changed, so has the technology being used in it. Today, educators are taking huge steps forward by harnessing and integrating the power of technology to create the most effective learning environment possible. Selecting the right choice to meet a school district's classroom and administrative printing needs requires doing some homework. Making the wrong choice can have an unforeseen, and often unwanted, impact on the long-term operating budget. Conversely, valuating needs, comparing the various technology choices available, as well as considering the pros and cons of various technology options can yield significant operating and productivity advantages for years to come.

By Jeff Sandler
([email protected])
Senior Product Manager for Printers
Brother International Corp.

Contact Information
Brother International Corp.
Bridgewater, NJ
(800) 276-7746

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.