Manatee schools spend more to improve computer system

ataylor@bradenton.comOctober 11, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County School District paid an additional $176,000 for a newly purchased computer software system to help ease teacher frustration over access and function problems, Associate Superintendent Scott Martin told board members Monday.

Martin said the district purchased two additional computer processors to help the system run more smoothly.

FOCUS -- the district’s new web-based information system that was launched in August -- would occasionally crash or cause teachers to lose grades. Because of the problems, the teachers’ union asked for an additional week to finalize progress reports.

“As with any major implementation, we ran into some problems,” Tina Barrios, director of technology and information services, said to board members. “We very much recognize the pressure teachers are under.”

Board members said they didn’t approve of teachers being further stressed considering already imposed salary changes and other issues.

“I really feel this wasn’t presented in the best way to the board or to the teachers,” Vice Chairman Harry Kinnan said. “I’ve heard nothing but frustration from teachers. They really don’t need to be working on weekends or at midnight.”

Board member Karen Carpenter asked how much more money was spent on the new $814,500 system. That’s when Martin and Barrios explained that the two additional computer processors were purchased at a cost of $88,000 each. Carpenter asked for a full cost overview.

Board member Barbara Harvey said she was pleased that the tech department talked with everyone who had problems. However, she had one major concern.

“Are we going to have FTE right?” Harvey asked, referring to the week in October when state officials tally up student counts. “That’s money!”

Barrios said the computer system would be ready for student enrollment and report cards. Online grades, she said, may be viewable in mid-November. Originally, parents were told grades for students in middle and high schools could not be seen until January.

“I think we’re all frustrated with the difficulty we had with this,” Chairman Bob Gause said. “It’s been somewhat of a bumpy ride.”

Gause said teachers and administrators he has spoken with have been optimistic that the system will get better.

School Superintendent Tim McGonegal said, “Our teachers have really worked hard.”

“We’d like to express our thanks to the teachers and the registrars,” Martin said.

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