Saturday, May 30, 2015


By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

5/29/15, 10:05 AM PDT  ::   The Los Angeles Unified School District will spend the next two years rebuilding its problem-plagued record-keeping system, MiSiS, as the computer software’s costs skyrocket to more than $133.6 million.

District officials rushed to launch the software in August, leading to widespread problems with transcripts, attendance reports, class schedules and other vital records.

While quick fixes helped place students in the proper classrooms and restored some functionality months into the school year, the makeshift repairs need to be unraveled before MiSiS works properly, said Diane Pappas, chief advisor to the superintendent.

“There’s been a lot of short cuts and fixes to the system that weren’t done in the most appropriate way, so now we have to do an awful lot of clean up,” Pappas said. “This system will be pretty much rebuilt by the time we get done.”

Part of the trouble is district officials decided to model MiSiS after a system used by Fresno Unified. But LAUSD, the state’s largest school district with more than 600,000 students, needs to keep records for about eight times as many students as Fresno Unified.

Over the next 12 months, Pappas said the district will focus on restoring “basic functionality.” Bugs in the system’s ability to track attendance — records the state uses to allocate funding — and reports that educators need to review essential information about students will be priorities, Pappas said.

“It will be substantially better than it is now, but it will not be complete,” Pappas said.

During the following year, Pappas said the district will concentrate on creating features that were requested by educators and enhancing user-friendliness.

The project’s cost has grown by more than five times its original budget to $133.6 million from the $25 million that district officials initially anticipated paying.

A committee appointed by school board members to oversee the district’s spending of bond dollars this week approved a request to spend an additional $79.6 million, up from the project’s current budget of $54 million.

But the additional $79.6 million will only include the cost of restoring basic functions over the next 12 months, while more money will be needed the following year to add functionality requested by educators.

Last year, Superintendent Ramon Cortines was prepared to request an additional $71 million for fixing the system he inherited from his predecessor. The additional dollars would have brought MiSiS’ price tag to $98 million, but Cortines later decided to request smaller allocations of bond funding, as work on the system progressed.

District officials said in a statement this week they have restructured their contract with Microsoft ­— a key contractor working on MiSiS — to withhold full payment “until functions are working at schools.”

Aside from the cost of building MiSiS, LAUSD earmarked $11 million in emergency funds to help pay for manpower needed to manually review records, place students in the proper classes and ensure the system didn’t stop seniors from graduating.

MiSiS’ next test will come in August, when students arrive at campuses for the new school year. At the start of this school year, educators were left without the ability to enroll students, because MiSiS malfunctioned under the load of thousands of educators trying to access records at the same time. While may campuses reverted to paper forms last used decades ago, scheduling and enrolling students without software caused numerous issues.

Some students were stranded inside the wrong classes for several weeks, as counselors worked nights and weekends trying to access the system during off-peak hours.

While the start of the second semester went comparatively smoothly, the first week of school provides unique challenges as students attempt to transfer schools and enroll at the last minute.

“We’re doing everything possible to make sure we have a smooth opening of the school year,” Pappas said.

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