St. Paul school board considers closing print center

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2011 - 8:30 PM

The move could save $260,000 a year, but the number is in dispute.

During a recent day at St. Paul Schools' print, copy and mail center, humming machines churned out thousands of copies of tests, curriculum, syllabi and report cards.

The 40-year-old center could soon be silent if the school board decides at its monthly meeting Tuesday to shut it down as part of $25 million in budget cuts the board will vote on.

The administration has proposed outsourcing the district's print jobs to River Print, St. Paul city government's printing center. Several board members, however, have challenged the administration's numbers and questioned how much money shuttering the center would save.

Administrators have not been able to tell board members exactly how much it would cost to outsource the center's duties to River Print, saying compiling those numbers would be too complicated.

"Whether we decide to stay inhouse or outsource the job, it saves us nothing and that's my concern," board member Anne Carroll said in a testy exchange with administrators last week at a board meeting. "We're not factoring in the numbers of how much outsourcing is going to cost us because we don't have them."

The district will also vote on laying off 304 employees and other cost-cutting measures that will involve combining and shutting down several other departments.

If the print and copy center stays open, the administration says, it will have to increase its prices and plan for future expenses that include replacing aging equipment. It may also need to market its services to outside vendors.

The copy center, founded in 1971, makes about 3 million copies a year.

Schools pay the center an estimated $534,000 for printing services each year, which pays for the majority of the center's costs.

In recent years, the district leased several printing devices for schools, drastically cutting the amount of money the center brings in.

Michael Baumann, the district's finance director, said the idea to switch to River Print came out of a charge to save money by combining resources with the city.

The administration originally said closing the center, which employs four operators, would save the district $80,000. But in a separate presentation last week, that figure went up to $260,000. The original estimate did not include operating and utility costs, Baumann said.

"The reality is, are we in the business of printing or are we in the business of education?" Superintendent Valeria Silva said to board members last week.

Bob Chinn, an operator at the center for 26 years, has spoken to several board members in an attempt to keep the center open.

"I don't know if the River Print center can handle the district's needs and I don't know if it will, in the end, save the district money," he said.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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