Everglades High School uses smart cards to move toward a safer, cashless campus

Everglades High School uses smart cards to move toward a safer, cashless campus

“I remember when my fifth grade teacher said we would be able to buy things without cash,” said Everglades High School Principal Paul Fetscher. “I thought that was the most outrageous thing I’d ever heard. And here we sit, at the beginning of the 21st century. Our kids don’t have cash, they have credit cards. It’s time schools followed suit.” With that objective in mind, Fetscher began a campaign to create a cashless campus at Everglades High School in Miramar, Florida.

All students in Broward County, where the 3,200-student Everglades High School is located, have been using ID cards for school identification for approximately 10 years. Two years ago, the staff at Everglades added a smart chip to its cards, enabling debit card privileges in a number of areas, such as vending machines, media center and certain student activities. Now Everglades students can even purchase yearbooks and prom tickets with their ID cards.

“Broward County had a rash of vending machine break-ins,” said Fred Azrak, athletic director and overseer of the Everglades ID card program. “We discussed using ID cards to allow cashless purchases from our vending machines. They suggested adding a smart chip to our cards. Now, our students can conduct a variety of transactions on campus without cash.”

“This is a unique solution for a high school,” said Alan Mendelson of Plasco. “Many colleges and universities use smart cards for cashless transactions, but Everglades is one of the first high schools in the country with the foresight to create a cashless campus.”

Everglades was able to upgrade its system using its two existing Fargo ID card printers. Already printing bar codes on the cards, the printers now simultaneously enable smart card options. The new, smart ID cards retain the printed bar code because not all applications at Everglades are integrated into the smart card system yet. The cafeteria program, for instance, is run county-wide out of New York using the students’ bar codes. Likewise, the library check-out system references the students’ ID numbers via the bar codes because there is no money involved in checking out a book so the smart card application isn’t needed.

Immediate Rewards
It didn’t take long for Everglades High School to see results from the smart card program. “Vandalism has become non-existent, despite the fact that vending machines stay unlocked outside all night,” said Azrak. “These machines use card readers instead of typical coin or dollar bill slots. Students know there is no money in them. We can’t get a bag of potato chips at our school without an ID card.”

Everglades makes it easy for students to deposit money into their account. They can insert cash into machines conveniently located in the guidance office and the cafeteria, and the money is transferred to the student’s card automatically.

Students have been very responsible with the cards, according to Azrak. They know that if they lose their card, they lose the money in their account. Everglades also charges a small fee for replacing the card. Starting next year, students will be allowed to keep their cards from year to year to defray school expenses. The Fargo printers laminate the cards to enhance their longevity.

Everglades High School paid for its smart card program using Broward County capital funding. “We also had help from companies in the area that donated money to our program,” said Azrak. Everglades has arrangements with three different financial organizations to act as global banks for the school’s activities.

Expansion Plans
The next phase of the Everglades’ smart card program will allow students to use their cards to get into athletic events for a discounted fee, a project that is near and dear to Azrak, especially with the school’s new 4,000-seat stadium for football, soccer and track events. “If someone went to every athletic event on our campus, it may cost $400,” estimated Azrak. “For a discounted upfront fee, students soon will be able to use their cards to get into any athletic event on campus.”

Currently, student ID cards are run through hand-held card readers by staff members at the entrances to events. The simple addition of an icon on the card, such as the school’s mascot, an alligator, will identify the student as having paid in advance. Azrak believes the new system will enable faculty to get the students in and out of an event faster, in addition to improving security at the games.

Before the athletic events are added to the cards, however, Azrak and his colleagues need to address the issue of how to split the ticket revenue with other teams. “Because we will be selling the cards at a reduced rate, we have to consider how this will affect the revenue going to other schools,” he said. “If every school began using smart cards, each school could just keep its own money. There would be no money changing hands.”

Azrak is rightfully concerned about the exchange of money. “Last year, we played a game where we collected more than $12,000,” he said. “I was the one who had to transport the money to the bank. I see a lot of benefits to using smart cards.”

Everglades staff also want to expand smart cards to incorporate access control. Currently, the school uses PlascoTrac, a student violation tracking system, to track infractions such as tardiness. Using a mobile, hand-held device, administrators scan student ID cards at the door and issue late passes to allow students to return to class. On the fifth disciplinary action, students receive an automatic internal suspension. “Someday, we might use palm prints and tie the system into our software,” Azrak said. “If I had the money today, I’d love to do this. I wish I could put a card reader in every room for attendance.”

A Win/Win Situation
Even two years after the introduction of smart cards, Azrak still is impressed with the capabilities of his system. “What’s so neat is that I can tell you that John Doe bought 20 Pepsi drinks at machine number 8,” he said. “When the application expands to athletic events, our system will give me a printout, and within five minutes I will be able to tell parents if their son or daughter was at the game on Friday night. I can even tell them what time he or she came in.”

“Setting this up was a little work at the beginning,” Azrak admitted, “but it’s been worth it. We have had no incidents of robbery, because our students don’t need money here. It is a more secure school now.”

Fetscher agreed. “When the athletic fee system is engaged next year, we will finally arrive at a point where there are no cash transactions on campus,” he said. “Parents will feel better. Staff will feel better. Using smart cards is a win/win for any school.”

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