School board hears the positives on troubled software system. There’s much to be done

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.

Just over one month ago, the school district received a draft report on the continued installation of its business management software, a project tainted by missed deadlines and millions of dollars in over-runs since it started in 2016.

In last month’s report on the ERP software, internal auditors called the situation a “system crisis.” Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said the district’s operations were “barely” afloat at an April 18 meeting of the Audit Committee.

There was little talk about the ongoing issues at Tuesday’s school board workshop. Scott Hansen, the district’s new chief technology officer, used his scheduled update to highlight improvements since the program’s launch on July 1.

“We obviously know the challenges that have been well documented with ERP, but we wanted to take an opportunity to really share some significant accomplishments over the course of the last 10 months,” he said, addressing the school board.

He listed dozens of accomplishments on seven out of 10 presentation slides, each affecting employees, district finances and the operations at Manatee Technical College.

The presentation put at least one board member at ease.

“Thank you so very, very much for calming everybody down,” said James Golden, the board’s newest member. “I don’t feel the sense of urgency, immediacy, emergency that I’ve been feeling literally since I got here.”

Employees can now access a self-service feature outside of the school day, allowing them to handle personal business from home. Issues with W2’s and the processing of other tax documents have since been resolved, according to the presentation.

A third-party contract to maintain Taleo, the district’s hiring system, costs $30,000 every six months. Hansen said Manatee realigned employees to support the program from within, saving the district money.

The district made strides when it came to issues with credit card processing at MTC, and the school’s attendance numbers are now being generated in the system, his presentation noted.

Hansen used the words “challenges” and “successes” throughout the 14-minute presentation, but he often stopped short of explaining the bullet points. In a follow-up interview after the presentation, he said the update was meant to be a high-level view of Manatee’s attention to the troubled system.

“Today was really to make sure that our community is aware of the hard work, and that we have had some significant accomplishments as well,” he said.

“It’s easy to digress and look at some of those challenges,” Hansen continued. “Those are well documented, and nobody is stating those are not, but it was an opportunity today to really show that we have made some significant improvements.”

When it comes to the significant issues and possible solutions, Hansen said not much has changed since the board’s conversation in early May.

For the first time since launching its new system, Manatee faces the year-end close of its finances. The district also needs to generate accurate reports for state agencies, which can affect district funding.

And at MTC, the district is still grappling with students’ financial aid. People inside and outside of the district have addressed each problem with manual intervention, which opens the door for errors and overburdened employees.

The purpose of Manatee’s new ERP system was to automate its business processes and move away from a paper-based system. Hansen said the district plans to assess its pressing issues and the long-term solutions through a “needs assessment.”

Manatee will first hire a company to form requirements and shape the assessment, and to identify companies that could successfully carry out the review. The district will then take its results and brainstorm lasting solutions, beyond the short-term bandages it used to stay afloat in previous months.

“Are we a well-oiled machine? No we’re not,” he said. “Are we making positive progress? Yes.”