[D.C. School Superintendent Arlene] Ackerman has made it a top priority to upgrade computer operations and has persuaded the D.C. financial control board to provide about $10 million for new systems. But until they are installed, which will take more than a year, simple things such as counting [the number of students in summer school] will continue to be a challenge.
-- The Post, July 30, 1998
The District government will scrap a $20 million citywide payroll system after a frustrating year of employees receiving late or inaccurate paychecks, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said yesterday. . . . "If the school system could be treated as an entity unto itself," School Superintendent Paul L. Vance said yesterday, "I think it would help us go a long way toward solving the problems."
-- The Post, Aug. 23, 2000
The District public school system has spent about $25 million over the past four years for a new computer system that still is not operational, and officials now are studying whether most of the project should be abandoned.
-- The Post, March 30, 2004
D.C. public schools should abandon a failed five-year-old project to install new computer systems, which already has cost $25 million, and instead use systems being developed by the city, according to a report commissioned by school officials.
-- The Post, June 6, 2004
WE CITE these stories concerning D.C. public schools and computer systems to illustrate the long-standing and expensive nature of the problem. It is nothing short of outrageous that a school system forced to eliminate hundreds of teaching positions and other school-based jobs for lack of funds has wasted millions of dollars on a computer system that, after five years, still is not operational. Imagine the uses that could have been made of the money poured into that failed computer system.
What's worse, even if the school system abandons the obvious flop -- as it apparently should -- the city's Office of the Chief Technology Officer says the schools would need to spend an additional $22.7 million to use the city's new computer system. The system doesn't have an additional $22.7 million, so the schools are back where they were five years ago, facing the same chronic problems in procurement, payroll, human resources and other business functions.
How did it come to this? High turnover in school management hampered the project, said a top official with PeopleSoft Inc., the company that sold the software to the schools. Consultants hired to examine what went wrong point to the school system, which they say complicated the project by trying to heavily customize the software. We recall the words of Mary Levy, an analyst for the education advocacy group Parents United, six years ago as she assessed the school system's poor technology and the poorly trained people operating it: "Right now we have the worst of both worlds." Six years and $25 million later, those worlds have not changed.