20 Tips for Schools to Reduce Operational Costs

14 min readNov 3, 2021

This post was originally published on: https://theedvolution.com/20-tips-for-schools-to-reduce-operational-costs/

During the economic crisis of 2020 due to the pandemic, schools are the worst-hit industry. These difficult times require some definitive measures to maintain schools and keep the doors open for students throughout the recession.

Excellence in education is the prime goal of the school. However, a school can’t carry on if the budget is not enough. This year I realized the tough time my school administration has when it comes to managing the budget when I learned that many schools are lying off their teachers due to the budget cuts. Now, these tough times are making it difficult for teachers to stay employed. And it is even more discouraging for the students due to the increase in fees.

Ever since the new budgets were announced, I have been working along with the school management to come up with efficient ways to utilize our resources and serve our students in the best way we can. The areas where schools utilize most of their budget include:

  1. Utility bills- electrical and gas.
  2. Paper and stationary.
  3. Teacher salary and benefits
  4. Marketing for private schools.
  5. Financial aid for students.
  6. Summer programs in schools.
  7. Transportation- buses, fuel, and drivers.
  8. Technology equipment.
  9. Extracurricular facilities maintenance and upkeep.

Now my school management has been able to (thankfully) incorporate various small and big measures to stay in the budget for the year while also providing all the facilities to the students and faculty including food, sports, STEAM education, and special Ed.

Some of the approaches we have used are mentioned below. These have helped us tremendously to manage the school budget. By adopting these methods we have been able to keep the teachers and staff employed while staying in budget. So continue reading to learn about the simple yet efficient ways schools can adapt to reduce their operational costs and thrive even with a limited budget.

Utility Bills

  1. Solar power

Schools spend $6 billion to pay utility bills per year. Electricity prices are increased during the times of recession so it is wise to make a one-time investment into solar power. Not only will you be saving on hundreds of dollars in electricity bills each month but also be taking an environmentally friendly approach to control your operational costs. Xcel energy and performance services have tips on how to connect with solar companies to get the best deal of solar power for private schools.

3,752 schools across the US have already shifted to solar power to provide electricity to their schools. The amount of money saved by these schools is $77.8 million according to the US school report.

2- LED bulbs

The regular old-school tube lights and fluorescent bulbs require more energy than some of the other options. LED bulbs and lights are an economically better option as LED requires less energy than a fluorescent bulb, for example, one 3.5 Watt needle tip LED is equal to the 25-watt incandescent bulb. So you will not have to compromise on the watt or the power of the bulb as these LEDs are super energy efficient while giving sufficient light. QA education has tips on how to get started with LED bulbs in school.

The US Department of energy ran a trial of replacing old bulbs with LEDs in various schools across the country and found promising results in favor of lower cost and better service.

When using this approach, you must conduct some awareness campaigns to enlighten people about the importance of shutting off the lights and fans when they exit the classrooms. Students should be encouraged to participate and be more energy-efficient to help the school control operational costs. You can assign duties to the staff and the homeroom teachers to turn the lights off when the classroom is not in use.

3- Install Modern Thermostats

Air conditioning in the summer and heating during the winter takes away a big chunk of the school budget. By installing high-quality modern thermostats designed with new and improved technology you can save a significant portion of your operational costs. Have separate heating for large spaces such as gyms, cafeteria, and the auditorium so you can turn off the AC/ heating in these spaces when not in use.

According to the survey, smart thermostats save 15% on cooling costs, depending on your location.

Modern thermostats have timers or remote control functions, so you can set timers to turn on the heating or AC early in the morning before school. That way the AC/ heaters will not be working the whole afternoon and throughout the night. Operational costs decrease significantly by using thermostats that can shut off the AC when the temperature in the room has reached its set temp. Nest and alarm New England have more information on how to cut operational costs using smart thermostats.

4- Shut off computers

School computers in the computer rooms and offices require a lot of electricity. Shut down the computer rather than putting it to sleep to save on operational costs. You can install software and timers into the system that shuts off all the electrical programmed appliances after school hours. That way you can save on around 12 hours of unnecessary electrical usage.

Shutting off the computers saves 30% of the electricity required for the computer v putting it to sleep.

Set up sensors into the doors and monitors of the computers that will put the computer to sleep and shut off the lights in the room when no one is using it. Pay less power and extreme low energy have more tips on ways to save energy in schools.

5- In house maintenance teams

Lack of routine maintenance is a major factor of increased operational costs. Yet it is one of the least looked at. Regular and timely servicing of appliances is important to prevent excessive use of energy, for example, regularly cleaning the air filters allows the AC to work efficiently. The buildup of dust and debris in the vents causes the AC to work overtime to maintain the set temperature and air pressure.

A report by the McKenzie Global Institute estimated schools can save up to 40% of the maintenance costs with preventive maintenance approaches.

The same goes for electrical appliances, water coolers, and kitchen electrical appliances etc. If you are looking to decrease the utility bills, have an in-house maintenance team to look after the electrical infrastructure to keep things functioning well. Micro main and interchange have more tips on how to run an efficient in house maintenance team to cut operational costs in schools.

School Resources — go Paperless

  1. Use apps for tests and attendance

Giving test paper and quizzes generates a lot of paper that is rendered useless in a few months if not days. After grading the tests, teachers store it for some time and eventually throw it away. Shifting to electronic means of taking tests and quizzes can be a beneficial means for schools to cut operational costs.

Invest in tablets for the entire class if possible, otherwise, conduct tests in the computer room available in every school. Another way is to upload quizzes on student portals and software to solve at home using their own devices. Ozobot and frevvo offer interesting tips on how to go paperless in a classroom.

On average schools spend $200,000 on paper annually. By going paperless you can save all these paper-related expenses.

Teachers conducting attendance takes a lot of time. To write down the names of all the students into the register is very counterproductive because there is a lot the teacher could be doing with that time. Use biometric attendance linked to the school’s software. Computerizing the entire process will save paper and cut on operational costs. Good firm has free software for attendance purposes in schools.

2- Fee vouchers and checks via online banking

Use online banking and emails to send student fee vouchers or employees paychecks. That way you will not only save on the paper but also on time because now people will not have to come into the office to pick up the checks.

You can use WhatsApp or SMS services to send the fee vouchers to parents and students. Printing of these vouchers costs schools around $4000/ month in ink and toner, so save all this revenue by going paperless.

Shifting to online banking allows more efficient record-keeping for the accounts department. You can easily pull up records and punch in overtime without having to do it manually. Edugate and T school are software to make the move to online banking efficiently.

3- Student records computerized

About 93% of the paper generated from schools is thrown away (not recycled) or misplaced. With hundreds of students in the school, computerized record keeping will make it more efficient to keep all the records and history sorted.

In schools, 10% of the annual budget is spent on paper. By computerizing the students and faculty records, you can spend this budget somewhere more important.

Student progress reports, attendance records, fee information and home address etc. can be updated and shared easily via computerized systems. The schools require large storage spaces to keep the paper records and separate management staff to maintain and access said records. By cutting paper here you can cut the costs of the storage spaces as well as the money spent on paper. National Records of Scotland and school solutions portal have tips for you to introduce computerized record systems in your school.

4- Paperless communication

Instead of sending slips between the teacher, principal and the students, the teacher can use a tablet installed in the classroom to update the student portal with relevant information. Teachers can even hand out detention via school management software. You can use walkie-talkies and radio for communication between the staff. Two-way radio gear and vertel digital have more ideas on paperless communication for schools.

Sending updates to parents such as permission slips for a school trip can be handled online as well. Such paper is one use only. The school cannot keep the slips after a week because there is simply no use for it. Save on the operational costs of school by going paperless.

5- E-library

Not only will you be able to save a ton on new books by shifting to a digital library but it is much easier to maintain and access as well. With the advancing technology of today, books are updated every few years, so there is no point in spending thousands of dollars from your budget to buy books for the library when they will be outdated in a few years anyway. Invest in an online e-commerce store partnership so you can have unlimited updated books in your school’s library at a much better rate.

A school library on average has 10 books per student, and it costs $120,000 to build a library for 1000 students only. On top of that schools require around $70,000 in upkeep annually. By shifting to a digital library you can cut this expense to less than half!

Odilo and Acer for education are online resources you can check for more information on how to build a state-of-the-art E-library for schools.

Teacher Salaries and Benefits

Private schools spend approximately 10% of the budget on the teachers’ salaries. On top of that, the benefits including medical insurance, housing, and transport allowance, etc. cost a lot. To cut operational costs when the budget is tight, reduce the benefits offered or look for cheaper insurance for the faculty. Harvard business review and live mint have more information on how you can negotiate an arrangement with teachers and their salary cuts.

Offer longer contracts and job assurance in return for lower pay of teachers. You can reach an agreement where you pay less to the teachers due to a tight budget but promise a specific percentage increase in pay after some time.

Marketing for Private Schools

The competition for private schools is intense; all schools want to attract students. Promote your school using online platforms and instead of having a full-time marketing department, hire contractors to work for a short time to cut your operational costs.

You can use various apps or marketing agencies that you can outsource your promotions to. ONQ marketing and Josh Meah have tips on effective marketing plans for schools.

Financial Aids

Private schools that offer financial aids to students are well respected. However, in these times of economic hardships, schools can decrease the number of financial aid students. Make it so that only about 5% or so of the entire budget is spent on the financial aid programs.

Isminic.com and student aid have tips on how to cut operational costs in the financial aid department.

Summer programs

You can charge more for summer programs and extracurricular activities so that your operational budget is saved. Allow students from other schools to participate that way you will have more revenue generated. Come up with summer programs that do not require expensive equipment and spaces so that you can provide quality but still save on operational budget.

Living well and jot forum have activity ideas you can use to create budget-friendly summer programs.

Transportation- Buses and Fuel

  1. Outsource the school transportation with fuel-efficient buses

School buses cost a lot in terms of maintenance, fuel, and drivers. By outsourcing your transportation to independent contractors, you can save a lot. The fuel prices and the transport fee can be handled by the company and you will only have to pay a pre-established sum for their services. That way the change in fuel prices or the maintenance charges of buses will not affect your budget.

According to a Springer Link study, $14,500 is the average price to maintain one bus per year.

You can invest in tankers for fuel so you pay the wholesale price for your school buses’ gas. Fleet root has tips to make your school buses more efficient.

2- Partner with local businesses

Reach out to local businesses and workshops to hash a deal where your school buses can be rented out or leased especially during the holidays. Partnerships with motor vehicle workshop owners will bring advertisement and continuous business at their shops; in return, you can get a better package for the maintenance and service of the buses.

Get your school buses serviced regularly so the problems can be detected early. This will help you save a significant portion of your budget. Plus the rent money coming from the tourist companies etc. will be more than enough to pay for fuel during the regular school days. Education world and NHS scholar have tips and success stories of school-business partnerships.

3- Efficient use of school buses

Use modern computer software to design efficient routes. Make it so that the bus picks up kids from every street and the fuel is utilized most beneficially. Retire the buses based on mileage so that the new better functioning buses can save you significant maintenance costs. Using the same bus for all elementary, middle, and high school students saves a lot in terms of the number of buses needed. Track school bus and school bus fleet have more tips to utilize your buses in the most cost-efficient ways.

Technology Equipment Costs

  1. Invest in modern technology

Set up STEM education programs, coding, and robotics classes with equipment that is sponsored. Usually big international companies are willing to partner up with schools in their district to give back to the community. So reach out to as many companies as you can so you have to spend the least amount of money on quality equipment for STEAM education classes.

Other than that buying technology equipment second-hand in good condition from auctions is also a wise move to cut operational costs. Going for wireless systems is a better alternative to desktop computers to save on the cost of wiring by hand and the upkeep of the old systems. Secure edge networks and cyber solutions have wonderful tips on going wireless in schools to save operational costs.

2- STEM education partnerships and collaborations

These days a school is incomplete without an inclusive STEM education program along with classes on robotics and coding skills etc. By collaborating with local colleges and other schools, you can cut the operational costs required to maintain a STEAM education department.

Getting smart and the journal has tips on how to get partnerships from universities for STEM education programs.

Optimal Use of Facilities

  1. Open the gyms for concerts and community programs

You can cut your operational costs by leasing out the extra space in schools to local communities to hold their functions. The football fields or basketball courts are generally available after practice and the space is large enough for big gatherings.

Depending on how often you can rent out the school space and the rates in your area, schools can generate significant revenue annually by leasing out space to third parties.

Especially with the recent social distancing protocols, local event managers are on the lookout for large spaces where sufficient distance can be maintained. Use this time to charge for the school grounds and use the extra revenue generated to complete various projects around the school. Surrey school and Kawartha pine ridge school have information on what facilities you can rent out and how much you can earn from it on average.

2- Rent out the music room

The music equipment is costly and the maintenance requires experienced professionals. By renting out the music room a couple of hours a week, the operational cost to maintain the space will be compensated for with the rent money coming in. That way you will not have to dip into the school budget and still conduct quality music lessons for students at the school.

Instead of hiring gifted music teachers that can play a multitude of instruments, you can ask volunteers or alumni to come in and teach the kids how to operate different instruments and help out with various musical productions. That way schools can maintain the quality of education and cut operational costs.

Wellness living and academic entertainment are excellent online resources to know more about the sharing of music rooms in schools.

3- Most efficient staff

To cut down on operational costs hire teachers who can teach more than one subject. Find an AP chemistry teacher who can also teach 8th-grade science classes. Appoint a principal assistant that can perform the duties of a vice-principal so you do not need a separate position for that. Form a team of staff in the kitchen that can prepare meals and clean up after so you won’t need a separate janitorial staff and thus you can save operational costs.

To be more efficient, the same principle can be appointed to two district schools. As the principal is the highest-paid post in the schools. Education world and workable resources are informative resources to learn more about efficient hires.

4- Cafeteria with kitchen staff

If your school has a large number of students and faculty then invest in a full-time in-house kitchen and cooking staff. Rather than catering from outside bakeries and delis, buy groceries at wholesale price and prepare nutritional meals. Getting food supplies in bulk and cooking fresh is more economical for the school.

You can check the prices in your local markets to see what it will cost to make meals at school, compare it to what you are paying the catering service to calculate how much you can save. When it comes to utensils, invest in long-term quality materials so you can save operational costs on disposable cutlery. Primary leaders and the key for school leaders have tips on how to efficiently manage an in-house catering facility.

5- Investment into efficient school management software

To stay on top of all that is happening with the budget you need to keep records. And in the technologically advanced world of today, school management software is what you need to keep everything sorted. There are many quality software available for free that will manage your budget. All you do is input the expenses.

To make the system even more efficient, you can ask various departments to input all their expenses themselves, that way the accounts department or the administration is not the one doing all the work. Open EduCat and My-schoolr are free school management software that are available for free online.

The Bottom Line

Public schools are mostly facing budget issues most of the time and this COVID-19 economic crisis has made the situation worse. To continue to provide quality education and stay within budget, these aforementioned tips can be very useful.

If you are a part of the school board or perhaps a member of the administration then you should introduce these reforms if they are not already in place. Even if you are a teacher, ask your school to take some serious steps so you can continue to teach while cutting on operational costs.

Just remember that while cutting the operations costs you are only removing the very unnecessary spending. The only way forward in these uncertain times is to be efficient with financial resources. Try these tips in your school and introduce reforms to cut operational costs!




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