by Thomas Himes, LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/1ohmWKj
Posted: 11/03/2014 8:57 PM :: The skyrocketing costs of fixing problems caused by Los Angeles Unified's disastrous new computer software, MiSiS, forced the new superintendent to institute a hiring freeze, as district number crunchers try to estimate a price tag for the faulty record-keeping system.
School campuses alone have been allocated an additional $10 million to help defray problems caused by MiSiS, while other costs incurred by districtwide efforts to put the school year back on track and build a functioning system for keeping student records continue to be a subject of study for LAUSD's technology and finance departments.
In an interview Monday, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the costs of paying overtime to educators -- who have worked nights and weekends in an effort to set straight transcripts, class schedules and other problems caused by MiSiS -- along with hiring temporary staff to help, caused him to institute the freeze.
"I'm not sure what the bill is going to be for fixing MiSiS, for the information system," Cortines said. "I put an army of people out in the schools, retired people, that has to be paid for, the overtime has to be paid for."
Educators inside the nation's second-largest school district worked weekends and nights trying to enroll students, create class schedules and fix transcripts left in disarray by MiSiS.
Last week, Cortines dispatched more than 300 temporarily rehired retirees to high schools to help fix transcripts before college-bound students miss deadlines for college and financial aid applications.
The emergency efforts Cortines undertook to fix the problem created under the tenure of his predecessor, John Deasy, exacerbate the district's financial problems. A price tag for the district's all-purpose general fund is still being calculated as a $300-million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year looms.
A total price tag for making MiSiS perform the functions of its predecessors -- computer systems that provided educators with tools to teach and track students -- is also in the works.
LAUSD primarily spent bond funds to build MiSiS and will need many more of those dollars to fix it. Thomas Rubin, a consultant hired by the district's bond oversight committee to look into MiSiS, said the price tag could surge to triple the $29 million originally allocated.
Only $10 million of MiSiS' original $29 million budget, to be spread over two years from 2014 to 2016, was spent by July 1, while a $1.5-million contingency fund sat untapped during the program's first and only year of pre-launch development.
By comparison, MiSiS' predecessor, ISIS, was contracted out to a company that specialized in developing such software. The company was given $43 million and seven years to work on the program before its rollout in 2010.
"I think we underestimated the resources and time we needed to do this," LAUSD Chief Strategist Matt Hill said.
Based on former Information Technology Chief Ron Chandler's advice, Hill has publicly said he recommended to Deasy that MiSiS would be ready to launch Aug. 12, the first day of school. However, Cortines said Hill has told him privately that he never green lighted the project.
Hill's recollection was substantiated, Cortines said, by documents showing employees of the district's information technology department gave the green light. Chandler resigned over MiSiS on Friday. Additionally a contractor hired to oversee the project had her deal terminated on Tuesday.
Ultimately it was Deasy who decided to launch MiSiS, despite repeated warnings from principals, counselors and teachers, which were reported by this news organization before the school year started.
Representing school principals and other LAUSD managers, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles President Judith Perez regularly discussed MiSiS with Deasy in the run-up to the program's launch.
"Deasy did tell us that he wanted to resolve the Chanda Smith consent decree for once and all," Perez said. "He wanted it done, but that was not necessary to do this year. There was not a timeline to do it this year. Originally it was expected to be done by next year 2015-16."
"It was his decision to move forward," Perez said.
Chanda Smith was told to repeat the 10th grade for a third time, because educators were unable to obtain records detailing her learning disabilities or address her special needs. MiSiS was LAUSD's latest effort to fulfill a court settlement stemming from the 1993 lawsuit brought on her behalf. Per the settlement agreement, LAUSD agreed to identify and teach students with disabilities.
But a report last month from the independent monitor reviewing the district's effort on behalf of the court highlighted that LAUSD officials decided to add features that were available under an existing software, making the rollout more challenging -- a move the monitor warned against, according to the annual report from court-appointed monitor David Rostetter.
Later this month, LAUSD's inspector general will issue a report on how MiSiS was launched before it was ready. Additionally, in the coming days the district will release a report from a consultant hired to review the system.