Losses mount as Manatee school district struggles with ERP system

In this file photo from Sept. 4, 2018, the School Board of Manatee County approved a budget of $889.4 million for the 2018-2019 school year.
In this file photo from Sept. 4, 2018, the School Board of Manatee County approved a budget of $889.4 million for the 2018-2019 school year.

A troubled software project continues to drain money, time and top administrators from the School District of Manatee County.

Robert Malloy, the district’s chief information technology officer, submitted his resignation just days after Deputy Superintendent Ron Ciranna filed for retirement. Both were on leave during an internal investigation of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) project.

Their departures, effective in November and December respectively, are pending school board approval, while project manager Angie Oxley remains on leave.

Board members will also decide whether to approve the spending of up to $260,000 for completion of the district’s new ERP system, which is at least $10 million over budget and more than a year behind schedule.

The issues will have to wait, as a power outage at the district’s School Support Center forced the cancellation of Tuesday’s school board meeting, according to a news release.

It said a faulty transformer caused the outage at 3 a.m., and that smoke from an air conditioner filled the building’s third floor. The meeting will be rescheduled and publicly noticed.

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Two project-related contracts will undergo a board vote at the next meeting. The first will extend a contract with George Kosmac, a retired Seminole County Public Schools administrator who was hired to oversee the project’s completion.

Kosmac’s original contract never appeared on a meeting agenda because it fell $5 short of the amount required for a school board vote. He was contracted for an amount not to exceed $49,995, and the superintendent is authorized by district policy to approve agreements under $50,000.

His hiring was, however, announced at the board workshop on Aug. 28.

Kosmac was hired to oversee the project and day-to-day operations in the district’s information technology department from Aug. 27 to this Monday. The extended contract would run through Dec. 21 and raise the maximum payment to $65,000.

He would receive $900 per day as the interim director of ERP business systems, along with a $250 flat rate for expenses, according to the pending contract.

The second contract is a change order with Ciber, the company hired to implement Manatee’s new software.

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders previously told the Bradenton Herald that Ciber agreed to fix outstanding issues at no further cost, but it seems the company will receive up to $195,000, the sum of $150,000 in services and $45,000 in travel expenses.

Saunders also said the district withheld $2.8 million in unpaid invoices during negotiations with the company. Invoices will be paid in the coming months, according to an email the superintendent sent to company executives in September.

Ciber agreed to a two-month “stabilization period.” The company will fix 48 defects listed in the change order, along with certain problems that may arise during testing, according to the pending contract.

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According to a log of system defects, recalculating the salary of a contracted employee “requires significant manual steps.”

“State Reporting: Online classes for Adult Ed is currently showing 0 hours for all students,” another entry said. “Approximately 30 students are in error.”

And the process for employee absences “seems to revert all the time that managers have already approved back to unapproved and makes it look like the managers have not approved the time.”

Problems could go unsolved if the district fails to makes its staff or systems available throughout the process, a mistake that would likely cost more time and money, the contract warned.

Sluggish decision-making caused some of Manatee’s project delays and cost overruns. The implementation was also affected by inadequate staffing, expanded scope and a bankruptcy at Ciber, along with unexpected problems with the original plan.

“Delays that are not caused by Ciber will be brought to SDMC management to determine if additional time and cost will be granted to extend this agreement via a change request,” the pending agreement states.