State auditors have questions about the school district’s costly software program. Here’s why

In this 2018 file photo, Deputy Superintendent Ron Cirrana and Manatee’s former superintendent, Diana Greene, attend a county commission meeting.
In this 2018 file photo, Deputy Superintendent Ron Cirrana and Manatee’s former superintendent, Diana Greene, attend a county commission meeting.

The School District of Manatee County can expect to face even more questions about its new software program— this time from the state.

State auditors are currently working on a regularly scheduled audit of the district, but fresh concerns arose in the last week. The district’s new business management software, known as an enterprise resource planning system, went live on July 1, but not before its budget nearly doubled.

The news arrived in an email to Superintendent Cynthia Saunders and others on Wednesday.

“I was just contacted by Janet Case our AG auditor — she let me know they have been reading the papers and they will be starting a full financial audit on the ERP project and are making official inquiries today that I should get shortly,” wrote Robert Malloy, chief of information and technology for the district.

However, aside from the email, district spokesman Mike Barber said the district had yet to receive an official audit notification as of Friday afternoon.

Ron Ciranna, deputy superintendent of business services and operations, is on paid administrative leave while the district investigates “payments and scope of work” related to the project.

“They’re the backbone of this district — they’re taking us to the 21st century,” Ciranna said during a June school board meeting, thanking his ERP team. “They are committed, they are dedicated, and what has impressed me is they’ve taken on this project with very little oversight from us.”

The project’s budget skyrocketed from less than $10 million to at least $19.3 million before its completion. It went more than a year over the expected time line, a result of expanded scope, communication problems and a staff shortage.

“In addition, the project team continues to learn of new interfaces and software programs being purchased by the District that were not vetted through the project team prior to the decision for purchase,” according to an internal audit report, presented to the school board in July 2017.

The upgrade was meant to replace a system that was in place since 1999. District employees will use the system to check pay stubs, enroll in benefits, request vacation days and complete other tasks, whereas much of their work was previously done on paper.

Installing a new ERP system is no small task, but the district’s efforts are causing more headaches than expected.

“Any time you have a project of this magnitude you are dealing with a lot of different concerns,” Ciranna said last year. “One is that the implementation has to follow board policy, it has to follow collective bargaining agreements, and it has to follow best practices and state statutes and guidelines.”