Education

Three Manatee schools employees now on leave because of software problems

The School Support Center, at 215 Manatee Ave. W.
The School Support Center, at 215 Manatee Ave. W. ttompkins@bradenton.com

The School District of Manatee County placed two more employees on paid administrative leave during an investigation of its massive software project, which has yet to be finished after the system went live on July 1 — more than a year behind schedule and at least $10 million over budget.

Rob Malloy, the district’s chief information officer; and Angie Oxley, the ERP project manager, are the most recent staff members to face scrutiny by the district’s Office of Professional Standards, according to an emailed statement by district attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum.

“Because of the ongoing investigation, the district cannot provide further comment,” it states.

The news comes about one month after Deputy Superintendent Ron Ciranna was placed on leave. His position was recently filled on an interim basis by Doug Wagner, who also serves the district as its executive director of adult, career and technical education.

When the deputy superintendent was placed on leave, school board Chairman Scott Hopes said the review was focused on “payments and scope of work related to the ERP process that may not have gone through proper authorization.”

The review of Malloy and Oxley is based on “reporting to the board of the status of the project, and information that was perhaps not made readily available to the internal auditor and the audit committee,” Hopes said on Wednesday.

In a separate review commissioned by Superintendent Cynthia Saunders, the district discovered at least $107,000 was spent without the school board’s authorization. The report was carried out by George Kosmac, a retired deputy superintendent out of Seminole County Public Schools.

The district’s internal auditors reported similar findings more than a year ago. Along with high turnover and a lack of resources, there were signs of poor communication and questionable transactions.

“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 one report.

The ERP project was meant to update a paper-based system that dominated district operations for 20 years. It was expected to cost less than $10 million and, according to one document, the software was scheduled to go live on April 1, 2017. The estimated price tag is now up to $20.1 million.

Other costs are on the horizon, especially when it comes to training employees, fixing software defects and, most recently, employing attorneys.

Board hires lawyers

The school board unanimously voted to expand its relationship with the law firm of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt on Tuesday.

The Tampa-based law firm is expected to provide legal advice on the district’s contract and ongoing discussions with Ciber, a consulting company that was hired to implement PeopleSoft, the district’s new system.

The system, known as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, had more than 60 defects as of last week, and its shortfalls caused recent payroll and purchasing delays. The district’s internal auditor and its volunteer audit committee are monitoring the project, and the Florida Auditor General is doing its own review.

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Tuesday’s board agenda made it clear that Carlton Fields is not being hired in connection with any lawsuits.

“Please note, this engagement is not for litigation,” it states. “The Carlton Fields firm will provide its services in insuring that the School Board receives the full benefits of its contract with Ciber.”

The agreement could be amended if the district were to need help in filing a lawsuit or defending against litigation. Such services may be needed in the future, according to a comment made by the board chair on Tuesday evening.

Someone from the law firm will be involved in all discussions and negotiations involving the company, and further services might be utilized “should we need to move into litigation,” Hopes said.

The district, he said, is withholding about $3.5 million in unpaid invoices as leverage while Ciber addresses the software issues.

John Clabby and Joseph Swanson, the lead shareholders in Tuesday’s agreement, are also representing the board in a class-action lawsuit that was filed after the district inadvertently leaked the personal information of more than 7,000 employees last year.

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In that case, the district paid a deductible and its insurer paid the other charges. Insurance is not expected to cover the new agreement, but Carlton Fields applied a “substantial discount” to its hourly rates, according to the engagement letter.

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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