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How Newark Public Schools Saved $200,000

In October 2013, blog pioneer Cameron Barrett was a crossroads. After 15+ years of building web sites for large corporations, startups, NGOs, the U.S. Army, Teach for America and the World Economic Forum, he was ready for a change. He had a lucrative job offer in hand from the world’s largest toy store retailer but he turned down the job because it would have required sending quite a bit of time in Poland where a development team was redeveloping the e-commerce back-end. Instead, he accepted a job offer at Newark Public Schools where he was tasked with replacing the proprietary platform all of the district’s web sites were running on top of. He took one look at this vendor’s proprietary Content Management System (CMS) and was less than impressed.

Change is what was needed and change is what Newark got. Cameron, now the Head of Web Site Innovation & Strategy, quickly put  a plan in place to replace the very expensive vendor with an open source solution called WordPress. Within six months, a plan was conceived and development vendor was chosen. Work began in march 2014 and the new web sites (68 in all) were launched in August 2014, just in time for the beginning of the new school year.

wordpress_graphicBy 2013, Newark Public Schools was spending $59,024 per year for the hosting of their web sites. This figure also included support, but not content maintenance or any custom development. Any new features or functionality would be contingent upon the CMS vendor issuing a Change Request and adding it to their software development lifecycle, something that would take 6-9 months and cost tens of thousands of dollars for each new feature. Clearly, this process was not working for large districts like newark that had unique development requests.

Newark realized, that by adopting WordPress, they could control the development lifecycle and add any new functionality they wanted, either by installing free (or premium) plugins from WordPress’s plugin repository which currently has over 50,000 plugins available for download. If a plugin is not available that meets the exact need, a WordPress developer could easily be found to write a custom plugin for Newark for a fraction of the cost of hiring the proprietary CMS vendor’s team. Also, by “going open source” Newark realized that any custom plugin they had developed could easily be contributed back into the WordPress community for other school districts to use.

Newark also realized that hosting on top of WordPress would cost a fraction of the cost of staying with a proprietary vendor. In the first year, Newark overbought a dedicated managed server at $1200/mo and during Year 2 and year 3 they downgraded to a $600/mo server. If you’re following along, that means that Newark went from spending $59,024 per year to spending $7200 per year, a savings of over $200,000 in just hosting costs over 4 years.

Now in Year 4, Newark continues to embrace WordPress and the vibrant community around it. A small team of two people in the Communications Department maintains all of the WordPress sites, develops news ones each year and continually contributes back to the WordPress community with bug fixes, advice and software code.

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