Manatee School Board evaluates 'antiquated' district technology

eearl@bradenton.comFebruary 26, 2014 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School Board met Tuesday to plan to correct an information technology system they admit is "antiquated" and "not elegant."

The Manatee County School Board Audit Committee, and internal auditors Byron Shinn and Cyndy Loomis of the Information Systems of Florida, presented the internal audit of information technology, suggesting the district should look at how many people they have in IT and where outdated systems can be upgraded.

Mike Borysiewicz, district chief information officer, said it will likely take the district up to eight months to complete an IT plan.

"The IT plan will fit into the operations plan," Borysiewicz said. "We are looking to bring the operations plan to the board within the first two weeks in May."

Information Systems of Florida recommends hiring a consultant to help implement a new IT plan, which could cost as much as $100,000.

Loomis said following the recommendations are at the discretion of the district management team, and the IT cost is just an estimate.

Borysiewicz said using one-year contracts for IT professionals is part of the district's problem.

"How are we going to meet shortfalls and, more importantly, how are we going to fund them?" Superintendent Rick Mills asked. "IT and recruiting is a real challenge. We have to be creative to recruit and retain high quality people that will move our district forward."

In response to last year's forensic audit by Mauldin and Jenkins, which revealed a multimillion-dollar deficit, the district reactivated the JD Edwards payroll software program Position Control.

However, audit committee members said the move did not improve district information technology enough, calling the cumbersome program "old green screen technology." The program requires some data to be input manually.

"The district needs to think about requiring new soft

ware," Loomis said. "But a cost-benefit analysis needs to be part of the decision."

School Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner called the finding "most troubling."

"The community, or at least I, was under the impression that we had solved the Position Control problem," Miner said.

School Board Chairwoman Julie Aranibar said properly recording data cannot be done if the district continues using outdated software.

"Our initial response when we saw this was 'wow.' It is antiquated," Shinn said. "We have not put in the resources for the past few decades to maintain it."

Shinn said with new district leadership, including a chief information officer, it is easy to jump to the conclusion of "throwing out" the current system.

"That is not a reality," Shinn said. "In the process, we have to get out of the quicksand and find solid ground by working on a strategic plan to identify what you want out of your software. You need to do that right away."

However, Borysiewicz said the software program is not be entirely to blame.

"The data will be corrupt if we are doing things in a different fashion all along," Borysiewicz said.

Borysiewicz said the district needs to correct the data and enhance managing systems in a way that is recordable and repeatable before updating software.

"We don't take a sophisticated system and force our processes into it," he said. "I've seen that happen over and over again, at incredible costs."

The Information Systems of Florida consultants recommended no specific software -- just that technological upgrades are needed.

Board members agreed it is especially important to rectify the internal audit IT findings as they transition to new forms of teacher and student assessments after the state recently approved a new school accountability plan.

Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instructional services, said school grades this summer will be based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0 for last time.

Next fall, grades will be based on the new assessments. The state is expected to select an assessment for the new Florida Standards next month.

"We are at a disadvantage," Greene said. "We will take the assessment, but we will have no idea what score is considered proficient."

However, the state decided there will be no new school turnarounds mandated based on 2014-15 results.

"Their recommendation for new grades is going back to a simplified method that we had many years ago," Greene said. "It is a refocus on achievement, graduation rates and college credits and industry certifications. It has become quite complicated over the years."

Although Greene said the standards will be more rigorous, the grading scale should not be changed as it was with FCAT 2.0, which made it harder for students to score at the proficient level.

The FCAT Writes tests began Tuesday for fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. March 11. The school board also has a Florida School Board Association training workshop scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday to go over the operating manual update.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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