Lean in Education Perspective - Athens, AL
September 04, 2011 at 9:32 AM
Guest Blogger Marty Adams, Limestone County Board of Education member in Athens, Alabama, shares his thoughts on how his district is looking for ways to bring Lean into education.
As a person who has been a leader of different “Lean systems,” I can see the value of the Lean approach in any system, especially our public education system. As a member of our county school board, often I am looking at a problem through one set of glasses while other members who do not have any Lean background are viewing the problem through another. We see things differently. Why? I think it’s the paradigms we have.
I believe our school systems are in need of a new way of doing business – a LEAN way. Education is a product that our schools systems provide. Like any business we have to get our product to the customer (students) with the least amount of “non value added” costs. We also have to do it better and faster than we did last year, last month, last week, or yesterday. If we don’t, we won’t survive as a school organization
Like most school districts, ours has serious financial challenges. Earlier this year we were given a 3% proration cut in our funds. We had, like every other district, been looking for ways to cut costs, but the situation had become even more dire. Our revenues were $83,300,356 and our expenditures were $87,756,794. We were operating in the red by $3,379,784.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. We had done energy conservation efforts before. Our burning platform was enough to open the rest of the board to consider a lean waste reduction effort targeting our energy consumption. But the skepticism was high - the initial group response was, “unless we can find millions, we don’t need to bother.”
The hypothesis the board agreed to test was that removing all personal electronic items (refrigerators, microwaves, hotplates, coffee makers, etc. ) from every classroom in the district would substantially reduce our energy costs. In the removal project, we made sure that a refrigerator and microwave were strategically left in common areas for people to use and to accommodate medication needs such as insulin. It’s amazing how many appliances this removed from the power grid. One principal found 62 of these items in just one small area in his school. We have 13 schools in our district.
To ensure we compared apples to apples, we looked at the energy usage for the same three months of our study time over three consecutive years. When we compared the differentials from March-May 2010 (before implementation) to the same three months in 2011(after implementation), the board was surprised to see the significant savings. Reduction in MONTHLY bills ranged from a high of $24,367 in March to a low of $11,705 in May! Compound that over a year. Another advantage that came from this effort was that our overall Kilowatt usage dropped which allowed us to qualify for incentives from reducing our carbon footprint and creating a ”greener” school system.
Our board meetings now feature new sounds, sounds that include words like” peak hours,” “kilowatts,” “usage,” and “peak usage.” It’s music to my Lean ears. What I hear now at our board meetings are not only the sound of money dropping in our piggy bank, but the sound of a paradigm staring to shift. It’s taken a while for our board to get here. But we simply have no choice. As school board members and stewards of school district funds, we have to find very “out-of-the-box” ideas to reduce costs. And Lean provides them.