Los Angeles (Calif.) Unified School District enrolls over 680,000 students, and the Budget Services and Financial Planning office uses enrollment forecasts on which to base resource allocations to schools. This process determines the number of teachers, textbooks, supplies, custodians, nurses, administrators and food service staff at each school campus. Enrollment forecasting has high stakes, but like every other district in the nation, LAUSD has made major financial cutbacks—$1.5 billion between 2008 and 2010. One program on the chopping block in 2009 was Roadshow, an in-person student-enrollment-forecasting review process that cost over $400,000 annually. So LAUSD needed to find a new, cost-effective forecasting review process.
The answer was an online program. In January 2010, LAUSD launched the Electronic School Forecasting System, known as E-CAST, an Internet-based platform that replaced Roadshow. The in-person review process had consumed 8,700 staff hours, 17,000 reimbursable travel miles for visits to schools and 52,000 paper data collection forms over the six-week review. “Back in 2006, it was pretty clear that it would be helpful to move this process online to make it more efficient without wasting time and expense in the field gathering data,” says Valerie Edwards, chief enrollment analysis coordinator at LAUSD.
Tchie Tao, director of facilities technology services, developed the E-CAST Web application with his team in late 2008. While Tao says that LAUSD’s preference is to find an existing technology tool, the district is large and has unique needs, so it’s not always possible to find one.
“E-CAST was one of those projects that IT directors dream about,” says Tao. “Edwards was an engaged partner and gave us plenty of detail to make this platform meet the needs of the district. We are spending money now to save money in the future. It was a laborious process, but the perfect role for a technology tool.”
According to Tao, E-CAST is intuitive, but a 20-minute training module is available to help principals understand how the enrollment forecast is developed and what it means. Technical assistance is provided online and via phone through a live customer-service hotline.
E-CAST increased operational efficiencies by using 2,500 staff hours, eliminating travel and making data collection paperless. In 2010, E-CAST cost $120,000 to operate—70 percent less than Roadshow. Budget planners at the central office believe that E-CAST is more effective, more immediate and more cost-effective than Roadshow, which had a 25-year run. However, building principals have been a hard sell. “The principals who spent their careers with Roadshow have objections to E-CAST because they don’t get to interact with a live person anymore and can no longer negotiate resident forecast, or projected enrollment,” says Edwards.
“Principals have a hard time accepting the reality that populations are decreasing and, therefore, their schools are losing staff.”
According to Tao, building the technology tool was the easy part. “So much technology goes to waste because nobody knows it exists,” he says. “The bigger part is the outreach to hundreds of principals, the budget office, creating training materials, and ultimately getting everyone to buy in.”
After tackling forecast enrollment, LAUSD is now discussing the possibility of adding a school-capacity assessment module to E-CAST to evaluate space and seating capacities. According to Edwards, space use varies in middle and high school classrooms more than elementary classrooms, where students spend the majority of their day with the same teacher.
“We want to use algorithms to figure out utilization and track classroom spaces electronically. LAUSD can use this information to make sure the district is effectively using space and to plan for maintenance and operations,” says Edwards.
It’s essential, as the district has over 13,000 buildings and about 8,000 projects, ranging from moving portable units to building new schools. If everything goes as planned, Edwards says the school-capacity assessment module should be operational in the 2013-2014 school year.