Education

Company demands more than $800,000 for Manatee School District’s software system

A closer look at the history of Manatee Schools’ troubled new computer system

Manatee County School District’s new computer software system has been riddled with delays, millions of dollars in cost overruns and other problems. It is still not fixed.
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Manatee County School District’s new computer software system has been riddled with delays, millions of dollars in cost overruns and other problems. It is still not fixed.

Ciber Global, a key player in the school district’s troubled ERP software project, has demanded more than $779,000 for its work on the project, and more than $30,000 in interest.

The new enterprise resource planning software, commonly referred to as an ERP system, was supposed to modernize every aspect of the district’s operations, but the project continually grew. It started in 2016 with a budget of less than $10 million, and it launched on July 1 with an estimated cost of $24 million, or $27 million with labor, travel and other costs included.

Internal auditors released new findings last week, revealing that Manatee’s software was still causing major problems for the school district and its employees. The district has now reached an impasse with Ciber, a company that was hired to work alongside district employees and implement the new system.

HTC Global Services, which acquired Ciber during its bankruptcy in 2017, was requesting payments since at least February. District attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum announced the update at Tuesday’s school board meeting, saying the demands were “without merit.”

“As we try to reconcile what’s been billed versus what’s been approved, can I tell you something, I’ve got problems because they exceeded board authority,” he said.

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders responded to the company in a letter dated Feb. 27. Inspired by Florida Administrative Code, district policy requires all purchases of $50,000 or more to first be approved by the school board, and the original contract stated that Ciber would not perform work outside of the board-approved requests.

Saunders’ letter said the school board approved less than $20.5 million in spending with Ciber, including the original $7 million contract and seven approved expansions to the project.

According to the district’s calculations, Ciber invoices exceeded the approved amount by more than $556,000.

“The invoices by Ciber cannot be paid without prior board approval and the School Board is prohibited as a matter of law from rendering payment after the fact for unauthorized services,” the letter concludes.

Rick Figlio, an attorney based in Tallahassee, responded in a letter dated April 18. He said the work was both requested and approved by the school board, and that Manatee owed nearly $810,000 as of April 15.

Since most of the agreements were on a time-and-materials contract and not a fixed price, meaning the company is paid for the cost of work hours and supplies, Ciber felt it should be paid for all of the work completed, according to Figlio’s letter.

He disagreed with Saunders’ letter, going on to say that Manatee was relying on “a quirk of State or local government law to avoid paying for requested services,” which could have future consequences.

“It seems intuitive that out-of-state entities that do work for the State in good faith will be less likely to bid on projects, reducing competition, or that they will account for the risk of nonpayment in their pricing,” Figlio wrote.

“My hope is that you and I can open a dialog that will lead to an equitable resolution of this dispute,” he continued.

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