Prince George’s County has significantly reduced the number of printers in its public schools this year, leading teachers to complain that they are losing instructional and planning time because they have to go to the main office to make copies. They also said they often end up waiting in long lines behind other teachers and have dealt with far more machine malfunctions.
“Many of our members have had concerns,” said Theresa Dudley, a sixth-grade teacher at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie and vice president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association.
School officials said they are trying to address teachers’ concerns as they reduce the number of printers as part of cost-saving efforts across the district.
“Our goal is not to disrupt the use of printers,” said Wesley Watts, chief information officer for the school system. “We just want to lower our print cost and provide our staff with the printing that they need.”
Watts estimated that once the school system fully implements the change, it will save about $1 million a year as it reduces the number of printers in schools and offices from about 10,000 to 4,395 — a 56 percent decrease.
In addition to saving on electricity costs, the main issue was the expense associated with printing, Watts said. The school system spent $1.7 million on toner for printers last year, when all teachers had printers in their classrooms, Watts said.
The number of printers varies by school this year, but the overall ratio for the district is four employees to one printer, Watts said.
Watts said teachers must enter their school logon information to make prints; for color copies, they need the principal’s permission or a special access code, Watts said. Color copies cost about five times as much as black-and-white ones, he said.
Albert Lewis, a ninth-grade English teacher at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, said the change has been a “slight inconvenience” for him but a “major problem” for others. But he understands why the school system decided to make the move.
“A lot can depend on the school and the teacher,” he said. “Having to walk to a printer can delay you to plan or to deliver your instruction.”
Ed Harris, a library specialist at two district schools, said one issue that the school system has not addressed is the elimination of students’ direct access to printers.
Dudley said union leaders recently met with school officials to outline some of the teachers’ experiences since school began a month ago. The school system issued a letter to union members saying it is reviewing the problems and seeking more feedback as the process continues.
“Over the next few weeks, staff will be visiting each school to get an assessment of the copiers and printers in the building and to determine ways to ensure efficient use of the equipment,” wrote Cathy Bond, the manager of managed print services for the school system. “At the conclusion of each site visit, staff will provide specific directions to the principal on how to rectify any problems that may exist which will hamper the ability for staff to copy and print instructional materials.”
Watts said he has made suggestions during his visits about placing printers where teachers have better access to them. He also has informed principals that teachers should use copiers, instead of printers, for large print jobs. The district has 900 copiers.