Education

Manatee schools paid more than $20 million for faulty software. A fix may be coming

Revamp of software needs more time, money

Ron Ciranna, deputy superintendent for operations for the School District of Manatee County, said an overhaul of the system's software system will require additional time and money.
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Ron Ciranna, deputy superintendent for operations for the School District of Manatee County, said an overhaul of the system's software system will require additional time and money.

The School District of Manatee County is pushing for a solution to the business management system that cost more than $20 million before it was delivered with a series of problems, which have since slowed payroll, purchasing and other vital operations.

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders planned to contact Ciber, the company tasked with implementing Manatee’s enterprise resource planning software, last Friday. Before she could do so, Saunders was contacted by Ciber and its parent company, HTC Global Services.

Representatives from both companies reached out to Saunders and proposed they meet. The executives met with Manatee’s superintendent and the school board chair, Scott Hopes, on Thursday.

Saunders said they came to a consensus after several hours: Ciber will fix the issues within two months, at no further cost to the district.

“HTC was not aware of some of the difficulties and the problems that we were experiencing,” she said.

Though she was expecting written confirmation of their agreement, Saunders had yet to receive an update from either company on Tuesday afternoon.

She said the district is withholding about $2.8 million in unpaid invoices while Ciber completes the project.

While the original project budget was less than $10 million, Saunders said the total cost is closer to $20.1 million. The majority, about $16.8 million, went to Ciber.

The project started under former Superintendent Rick Mills and former Deputy Superintendent Don Hall during the 2014-2015 school year.

It launched on July 1, more than a year past its original go-live date, under the direction of former Superintendent Diana Greene. And Ron Ciranna, the most recent deputy superintendent of business services and operations, is on paid administrative leave while the district investigates the software implementation.

At least $107,000 was spent without school board approval, and the district is still reviewing the project for other inconsistencies, Saunders said.

The Florida Auditor General, she said, is expanding its existing audit to include an in-depth look at the ERP project.

A new report was recently commissioned by Saunders and carried out by George Kosmac, a retired deputy superintendent from Seminole County. He said missteps by both the district and the software vendor caused poor communication, increased spending and delays in completion.

“Note that these problems were identified very early in the project implementation but nevertheless were not significantly addressed throughout the project,” his report states.

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