Education

Manatee School District considers $100,000 contract to fix computer 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.

The school district may pay up to $100,000 to a company that would — hopefully — address short-term issues created by the enterprise resource planning software, or ERP system, that launched 10 months ago.

With a 4-1 vote at its meeting last week, the school board authorized Superintendent Cynthia Saunders to enter an agreement with Accenture. The global consulting firm specializes in PeopleSoft, the ERP software used in Manatee, according to district officials.

Board members had yet to see the unfinished proposal, and board Chair Dave Miner protested the motion, citing a lack of due diligence. The school board will convene for a special meeting on Thursday afternoon, when the superintendent may present an agreement for review and approval, according to the agenda.

While the board already granted Saunders the authority to enter an agreement, Miner requested Thursday’s meeting, according to an email from district spokesman Mike Barber.

Miner could not be reached for comment.

“We have got significant problems with this system,” board member Scott Hopes said at the recent meeting. “It is creating significant problems for the superintendent to do her job, for us to know where money is, for us to get money in the right accounts, because things just weren’t built.”

The negotiations became public when Hopes successfully moved to include another item on the April 23 board agenda: Authorizing the superintendent to enter an agreement with Accenture, not to exceed $100,000.

The public had already filled the board chambers to support a resolution against the arming of teachers. Hopes’ motion prompted a second from board member Charlie Kennedy, and a sigh from the board’s chairman.

“This goes against everything the (Florida) auditor general has criticized about our doing business: that we haven’t done due consideration to business,” Miner said.

He was referencing an April report by state auditors, which included a review of the district’s ERP project. The report lists an original $7 million contract and nearly $13.1 million in board-approved changes that took place over more than a year, bringing the budget to $20.1 million before Manatee’s software launched.

The project total is more than $27 million when labor, travel and other expenses are included, according to a past review by the Bradenton Herald.

“The Board approved these change orders without evidence that other provider options were considered, or documented evaluations to ensure that the change orders would result in the best product at the lowest price,” state auditors concluded.

Miner said he wanted to see the contract and then decide whether it could benefit the school district. Even more so, he said, the public should have a chance to “weigh in on the wisdom of spending $100,000.”

“There might be some member of the public who says this is the greatest thing since sliced bread or the worst thing since poisoned bread, or something like that, but the public would have the right to do it,” he said. “We’ve certainly received criticism for shutting the public out of decisions like this.”

Board member James Golden vowed to join Miner in his vote against the motion, voicing similar needs for due diligence.

“Ever since I’ve been here, all I’ve heard about are decisions that were made on day one, that were regretted later because we didn’t have enough information,” Golden said at the time.

He later voted in favor of the motion, but Golden has since reflected on the vote and requested a new item on Thursday’s agenda: a motion to rescind the board’s vote that granted Saunders the ability to enter a $100,000 agreement with Accenture.

In a follow-up interview on Wednesday afternoon, Golden said he felt the decision was made without proper consideration of district policy, which requires board approval of contracts worth more than $50,000.

The proposal was unfinished, and the motion allowed Saunders to enter an agreement at her own discretion. Golden said he would rather inspect the final proposal before taking another vote.

“I made a mistake,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m not above admitting that I made a mistake.”

Kennedy supported last week’s proposal. He underscored urgent problems that could affect state funding or other important matters, and he praised the superintendent’s ability to keep individual board members updated.

“I have confidence in the superintendent and the way she works, so I’m not really concerned about an audit finding on this one,” he said at the meeting.

Gina Messenger, the board’s vice chair, asked question’s about the project time line, but she provided little input during the debate. She ultimately voted in favor of the motion.

“I’ve listened to all your conversations,” Messenger said, addressing board members. “I’ve gone back and forth several times sitting up here.”

The contract was still pending as Thursday’s meeting drew closer. After a request for the agreement, Manatee’s record custodian, Linda Lambert, responded with an email on Wednesday afternoon.

“There is no contract that exists responsive to your request,” she wrote.

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