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In what is its third and final phase of an ambitious plan to renovate their district, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) will be putting the final touches on 25 refurbished buildings that the district expects will receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification seal of approval. IPS, encompassing 65 schools and over 34,000 students, began its comprehensive sustainability project in 2001 to update infrastructure and reduce energy costs.

Two New Hampshire school systems, the Pembroke School District and Winnisquam Regional School District (WRS D), are reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by transitioning to biomass- fueled plants to heat their two largest facilities. Partnering with Honeywell, a private energy technology manufacturer, the districts will save an estimated $3.7 million combined over the next 15 years by switching to plants that burn wood chips. The Pembroke District completed its first phase in 2008, and WRS D expects its plant to be completed by fall.

The popularity of thin clients may soon diminish as districts catch wind of zero clients, the latest computer technology that is even thinner and lower maintenance. Zero clients, small silver portals the size of a Big Mac box, differ from thin clients in that they have no internal processing at all. "It is more or less a portal between the user and the keyboard," says Mark Lamson, director of technology for the Westerly (R.I.) Public Schools (WPS ). "It records key strokes back to a virtual machine which is running securely in the data center."

Many district administrators are finding that they can save money on computers by buying preowned ones instead of new ones. The practice has other benefits as well: It allows districts to give more computers to more students who need them, and it also promotes good environmental practices by keeping the machines out of landfills, where they otherwise might wind up.

Over the last 18 months, school district purchasing offices across the country have been tightening the reins like never before while more top-level administrators get involved in the budget process. “When the economy really hit the skids, states got hit hard, so a lot of school districts were forced to make severe budget cuts,” says John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International. “They stopped or reduced purchasing as much as they could on those discretionary items.

Education funding cuts in this tough economy mean current students may once again tell their grandchildren, “When I was your age, I had to walk to school uphill—both ways.”

For example, a budget shortfall in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas means that students living inside a two-mile radius of its 81 campuses will walk or carpool to school.

“We’re not cutting fat,” says Kelli Duram, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District assistant superintendent for communication. “We’re cutting into bone marrow now.”

Even with stimulus dollars flowing nationwide, districts are still facing large budget deficits and are looking for ways to save money. Some are investigating free and open source software (FOSS ) as a result.

FOSS applications are the work of communities of developers, usually volunteers, who keep the source code open and allow the software to be distributed for free. Any user can customize it, add to it, and fix its bugs. Although FOSS has been around for decades and used in many industries, school districts have generally been slow to embrace it.


In April 2009, Paul Vallas, superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, spoke with associate editor Don Parker-Burgard about Detroit Public Schools, what it takes to transform a district in decline, and the best use of federal stimulus money. Here are excerpts of what he had to say.


The federal stimulus package provides badly needed aid to school districts, allowing them to avoid massive staff and teacher layoffs and injecting them with a healthy dose of funds for many programs ranging from technology to renovation work.