How ScribFolders Helped One Florida District Free Up Space and Digitize Old Records
Enrollment: 50,000+ students
67 schools make up the School District of Manatee County
SDMC is comprised of 6,600+ employees
Monthly revenue generated through Scribbles: ~$2,900
Scribbles Solutions used: ScribOrder, ScribFolders, ScribOnline, ScribTransfer
Manatee County Schools is a large district on Florida's sunny Gulf Coast, home to over 50,000 students across more than 60 campuses. The district’s vision is to be an exemplary student-focused school system that develops lifelong learners to be globally competitive. For many years, records were stored in various locations across the district, and not all records were accessible to important authorized staff, causing undue stress in achieving their mission of supporting students to the fullest. Each campus in the district had accumulated old records that needed holding, but didn't have a central storage location to keep them in. Former attempts at digitizing records had been made, but those projects never crossed the finish line.
In a time when every campus had at least one room packed with old boxes of records, Scott Hansen and Kristi Miller from the district office stepped up. They used ScribFolders, the Scribbles solution for online cumulative records management, to digitize the old files and move them into a unified format that authorized users across the district can access. We sat down to chat with the two of them and see how that process has been going.
Tell us about the school district of Manatee County, your mission, vision and values.
Scott: Manatee County is a district of 50,000 students between Sarastoa and St. Petersburg, Florida. If you count our charter schools, we have 67 campuses, and this last year we got a B from the state rating agency. We very nearly got an A, which is our goal for next year. We're currently at the highest rank we've ever had among Florida school systems.
The key to our success so far is in the dedication of our teachers and staff, along with the families in our district. With their support, we've made innovations and are hard at work in the center of that ambition. Creativity is certainly key to the whole effort.
What can you tell us about your individual roles?
Kristi: I'm the supervisor of the property records and records management department. We oversee physical inventory, financial assets throughout the district, and manage the retention, storage, and disposal of department and student records. Before we went digital, we were primarily archiving records five years after a student graduated or was intended to graduate. These days we've also added management of the scanned active student records. We do the school-to-school, student records transfers, and record requests for all the schools.
SH: I'm the district's chief technology officer. I am entering my fourth year here. I spent 20 years in another school district north of here, which was actually the one I graduated from. I never thought I would leave that school district, but my wife's a teacher here. Over the last three or so years, I've been involved with scanning and digitizing old records from our schools. Before ScribFolders came in, the paper records were filling up countless boxes at every campus. So far, we're about 23 schools into being fully digitized, and we're hopeful to get it all finished soon.
Explain how using ScribFolders and Scribbles changed the way your records process worked.
SH: We have everybody pretty much running on the same playbook now with a standardized process district-wide. We developed an operating procedure. The planning portion of it keeps everybody on the same page. Then we have the scanning, which moves our records into a more accessible database and makes everything more easily managed on a district level. We ask the individual schools to sort through their old documents and decide what needs scanning and what they need to destroy, which is usually the older records, and then the rest goes into the new records system. I go out with the digitization teams personally, and I'd guess that by now I'm up to nearly half a million scans just on my own.
We can get everything scanned into the system from a typical elementary school in about one day, though I like to budget two days for a bigger high school. Once the documents are scanned in, they're easily categorized and searched pretty much any way we need. Check for records by student, campus, graduation year, or anything else. When we confirm the uploads, Kristi and her department arrange to cart all the paper off to its final resting place in a warehouse somewhere.
KM: Prior to using Scribbles, we had more of a paper-based system for record requests. People would come in to the office, fill out a form and we would process their request that way. In some cases they would fax it in. Of course when COVID hit, that became a lot more difficult for us to work with. So we were looking for different alternatives and came across Scribbles, and that made a huge difference for us. We learned a lot even before we started by looking at other districts in our state and seeing how some of them were using the product as well. We realized with a great deal of pleasure that the fees those districts were paying to use Scribbles products were very, very low by our standards for that kind of service. So we didn't get crazy, but we did take a look at several other districts, and our decision was, to some extent, made for us.
Before ScribFolders, where did you store your cumulative folders, and how did you access them?
SH: Before ScribFolders, we were doing it all the old-fashioned way, with filing cabinets and document boxes covered with dust. To comply with state requirements, we were keeping some records in fireproof vaults, which wasn't free, and to get them you had to drive to where they were and physically sign them out. This was an especially bad problem for us. The St. Petersburg area is pretty densely populated during the tourist seasons, so just driving six or seven miles to get to the records vault could take 30 minutes if you hit traffic.
The difficulty of all of this made it hard to meet our statutory requirements. Florida districts have time limits for how long we can take to respond to a records request. Depending on the requester and the type of record, it's anything from 3-30 days. That was hard to do when it was all loose paper in a vault or on a school campus somewhere. This is one of the biggest things that's won people over to the new system, seeing how digitizing it frees schools from all that paper they were getting lost in. We had thousands of boxes of folders stored on pallets that were stowed away on industrial shelves in a warehouse.
On a scale of 1-10, how much fun did your district have moving cumulative folders every year?
SH: Negative-47. We're actually still moving a lot of boxes right now because we're in the heart of this project. But ultimately there's a light at the end of the tunnel. The boxes of files were put together at the school level and sent to our warehouse for us to store or dispose of. Each school has a different priority level that they've assigned to that process. If registrars, or whoever was tasked with cleaning up the files and boxing them for us, would get a backlog, we would have to reach out to them for files that would've normally been scheduled to sit in the warehouse. That was one of the biggest things that would add time to our work. So fun was probably not on the list.
What made you decide to change the process you had?
SH: Two things, our district previously tried to do the transition of the paper folder to digitizing student records and it didn't go very well. It started, stopped, started again, stopped again, and then it just stopped and ceased to exist. And it was put on the back burner. I think ultimately there just wasn't an overall structured plan across the board, or if there was, it wasn't articulated or communicated.
We had some local shared drives and another third-party system where we were beginning to scan files, and then certain specialty departments started putting specific records in their own area because they were trying to survive the paper rush. And that's what led to us having these records everywhere. Somebody could show up in one location, check a folder out, think they were looking at all-encompassing student records, and maybe they weren't. We had to bring all those pieces together and make sure that we got things in a central location. It took a lot of planning with those specialty departments, getting their input and all, but also making sure that our structure is a single one embraced across the district.
Can you share what your internal stakeholders thought about using a new process?
SH: don't know that they completely embraced it at first. It was a district-level project, but we were pushing it out into the schools. I think what saved the rollout was bringing them onboard in a meaningful way early on and saying, "Okay, if you can purge and prep and get the records, we're going to send somebody out there to help you scan."
So it was making sure that the schools and the stakeholders knew that we were here with them in this project, that we weren't just pushing it down and saying good luck. I think as they started to see our team show up at 7-7:30 a.m. and they had us there for the duration until we scanned the last record, it created that inner positive energy. I think that was important.
Are you doing anything interesting with the new spaces that folders were in, or are you doing anything fun with the extra time you save by not trekking boxes around?
SH: The newly-freed space is really under the control of each school's principal, so we don't have a lot of control over that. I think they're just happy they're not dealing with boxes upon boxes, file cabinets of records, and filing of the records. And, and we've got a good process that we've articulated about when those paper documents come in and get scanned.
We're getting ready to ship our first large batch of records right now. We're doing a lot of the scanning of active student records and active employees and should complete it soon. Kristi's team also plans to make good headway on sending their first few thousand old record boxes to their final resting place.
My assistant currently scans a minimum of one box per week, but any cabinet member that has an assistant or an executive assistant secretary can join this process as well. So, personnel is doing all the prepping of the records, but they're hiring and they're doing all the other things they have to get done. They're short-staffed, but they're prepping the boxes and it's at least an aspirational goal for them. Some weeks they get two boxes, some weeks, maybe a box, but we shoot for one box per week as a minimum. We started that three months ago. Like I said, we're down to our final few letters in the alphabet, so about 40 boxes left to go and we'll have all active personnel files completely scanned. We're actually well ahead of schedule there, since we were originally not due to have that completed until January of 2023. We should finish it by the end of August, mid-September with those final 40 boxes.
Did you destroy any student records after they were digitized?
SH: No. We follow our records manual and state statutes for the destruction of records. What we do now is send those records to our designated records location. And moving forward, we see the benefit because we're no longer keeping the paper-based records [on location] once they're scanned in. At that point, those records are what become the authoritative originals.
The scanning process and the scanners we're using are dead on. I've had a lot of history with this particular type of scanner. I did this prior in the military, actually using the same product model. It was my decision what to go with, and I wasn't going to go with a different scanner because I knew these were rock solid and just right on. We've been scanning like crazy, but have not destroyed those student record files yet, just in case. We're going to keep them at this point in time.
Do you have any anticipated savings on when a warehouse is no longer needed? It sounds like you're using buildings and storage sites that are already school funded.
SH: Yeah. So one of the things that we're probably going do is move in our alumni records that we've had for years and years and years. We also have a large number of micro records that we've converted. Once Scribbles does the conversion of those records, I feel pretty confident today that we will decide to destroy those records. So those 3,000 boxes, which are made up of alumni records, as well as some other records that we've got, have some pretty complex retention policies tagged to them. I think we're going to gain that space back in the warehouse, which our warehouse team is really excited with. And we shouldn't have that onslaught of boxes anymore. We'll have that other location where we have plenty of room and we'll continue to store those records for the remaining schools.
We've got 23 schools already stationed there, and now we've got plenty of room before even finishing the digitization program. So I think the active records will stay there. I think the area where we'll gain the most is in the warehouse. And then at the school level, our high schools used to require us to keep five years' worth of alumni records somewhere secure on the campus. Only after that could they send them to the warehouse. So our schools are going to gain that space back because all the alumni records are being shipped to the district's main storage facility. We're only doing active student records on campus now. So you figure at a minimum, there's some resource room somewhere on every high school campus that's going to free up here shortly.
How did you decide to select Scribbles for cumulative records management?
KM: We started with ScribOrder, the Scribbles solution for online records requests, and had such a great launch and success with that product that we were receptive to anything else Scribbles was offering. We did look at a few vendors, some of whom were more specifically focused on K-12 than others, and just basically vetted everybody to see who had the product that was going to see to our needs the most. Because of the history that we had already had with Scribbles and the success that we'd had, I think that tipped the scales in Scribbles' favor.
What would you share with others thinking about moving to an online system for their cumulative folder management?
SH: I would say planning is definitely a big thing. You don't want to jump right into it, but communication and flexibility are the big keys. We found it worked well for us to have work sessions with various stakeholders and give them some hands-on time with what we were trying to do. It helped us kick the tires with processes. Planning also enabled them to see what was actually involved. It's one thing to just tell them what we're going to do, but for them to have that hands-on experience really helped.
For example, one department had several categories that they wanted to use initially. Once we could actually sit down with them, it became clear that the process was more cumbersome than they had originally thought. And so, we sat down with their team and showed them what was involved, had them break out files that way, and came away from the table with a much shorter list. So we were able to streamline the process. I would advise becoming flexible enough to make changes on the fly as you need to, and then communicate them out to everyone.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
SH: You'll never look at a staple the same way ever again.
If your district is ready to go paperless, make records more accessible to students and families, and even generate revenue, fill out the form below to contact our team today.