FORT WORTH, Texas – How long does it take a school district to realize it made a really bad investment and wasted a lot of taxpayer money?
In 2007, the Fort Worth school district either purchased or leased (depending on the media report you believe) a comprehensive computer/software system that was supposed to effectively manage a number of vital district functions, including student records, payroll, budgeting and payments to outside vendors.
The cost was $6.8 million, plus another $750,000 in user and maintenance fees, according to FWWeekly.com.
Over the next seven years, it became increasingly apparent that the integrated system, provided to the district by Tyler Technologies, either performed poorly for personnel who used it, or had no practical value for many school employees – perhaps because they had never been trained to use it.
But based on press reports, it seems like the obvious problems were slow to sink in with district officials.
In 2011, after one computer program in the system was failing miserably, the district’s technology chief admitted that it might have to be replaced.
“I am not married to Connects,” he told a local reporter, referring to the name of the computer program.
Four years later, after an internal audit revealed that much of the computer system had been unnecessary for the district, or unused by employees, he was quoted as saying, “At some point there would have to be a discussion about whether do we continue with this program or do we look to replace it with another solution.”
The problems were obvious early on.
In 2009, a program used for payroll malfunctioned, resulting in roughly 2,000 employees being overpaid by a total of about $1.5 million and other employees not being paid at all, said a report from FWWeekly.com.
Not long after that, a district employee claimed she was fired for complaining to school officials about the malfunctioning payroll program. She was eventually reinstated and the district paid her a settlement of $135,000, according to StarTelegram.com.
In 2011, a program used to manage student data was so screwed up that it miscounted the number of credits students earned, mixed up class academic rankings, lost information regarding attendance and grades, misidentified parents, and mixed up student class schedules, according to FWWeekly.com.
“Many local high school students spent the first several weeks of the fall semester sitting in their schools’ libraries waiting for the system to figure out what classes they were in, because it had them enrolled in classes they didn’t need and dropped them from the ones they had signed up for,” a report from FWWeekly.com said.
One school employee told FWWeekly.com that many seniors’ student transcripts were “totally inaccurate” just as they were trying to apply to colleges.
“The problem is, we just don’t know how many are wrong,” the employee said.
Finally, in 2014, an audit revealed that about $2.5 worth of the computer equipment and/or software had been “unnecessary” or had gone totally unused, StarTelegram.com reported.
Part of the problem, after seven years, was that district departments and their employees had not been fully trained to use the various programs.
“While I do concur that all technology purchases should be fully used by the district, it is also the responsibility of the individual departments to ensure they are utilizing the products we procure on their behalf,” the district technology chief wrote in response to the audit, according to StarTelegram.com. “I will continue to work collaboratively with them to ensure we do this districtwide.”