A School Swap initiative has allowed the Howard County Public School System to cut spending for new materials, equipment and furniture, according to continuous improvement specialist Teri Dennison, who said the county has saved an estimated $260,000 over the last three years.

Since its debut in the 2014-2015 school year, more than 1,700 items have "swapped" locations, finding a new use at schools or school offices. Schools and offices work together to find a space for surplus school resources and furniture, which is available at no cost.

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Dennison said she was assigned to program improvements at the logistics center in 2014, when she noticed the school system's warehouse was filled with unused items, including desks, tables, chairs, cabinets and shelving.

"They would either be recycled or sold as public surplus and very little got back into the schools," she said. "My parents were Depression-era people, so we always thought you have to use what you have or find a place for it where it can be reused."

After conversations with the chief of accountability, director of purchasing and web team, Dennison helped develop a hub on the Howard County public schools' website, where teachers, faculty, staff and administrators could search for materials and furniture they needed.

To inform others of unwanted materials, staff can post items on the school system's website, where they can be claimed by other schools and offices at no cost.

Technology items that have memory cards are not available through the site, Dennison said, but are handled by the technology department. Warehouse truck drivers often decide what items are salvageable, sometimes breaking down tables to reuse the tabletop or legs.

Laurel Parsons, a transition work-study teacher at Howard High School, said she heard about the service from her colleagues during her search for a table.

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Located behind the original building, the new Wilde Lake Middle School was closed to students on Dec. 22 and 23 for teachers to prepare their new rooms.

"I went on to see what they offered there and they offered some really cool materials and supplies," Parsons said. "I found a round table, which was awesome, and I also found a magazine rack holder that has four different sides to it. That was perfect for me to use for some resources that I give to parents when they come in and conference with me."

Parsons also found a document scanner, she said.

Principal Nick Novak said Howard High, which was built in 1952, still has some furniture from its opening year, making School Swap an efficient and ideal service for its staff. Rather than order new items through the central office or online via Staples, Amazon or Office Depot, Novak said school departments log online and browse for materials they need.

Howard High's world language department recently received new chairs and tables for their office, he added, saving the school system thousands of dollars.

"[Before], you were spending a lot of money for a brand-new product, so now you can get some gently used things that are almost just as good at no cost because it's already been purchased," Novak said. "Schools don't always get updated as much as our own homes do. It's nice to be able to update some of the furnishings and get a more modern appearance without having to spend lots of money."

As the initiative continues to grow across the school system, Dennison said she hopes to see similar efforts in neighboring counties and perhaps a larger swap between school systems.

"I'm feeling extremely excited about it," Dennison said.



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