School Officials Make Pitch For $1.7 Million Computer

April 09, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff writer

The county Board of Education's record-keeping is so antiquated thatthe school system is the only one in Maryland that will not meet state reporting requirements for attendance records next September, unless it makes a major investment in computers.

That was one example provided the County Council yesterday during a two-hour sales pitch by school officials on why they need $1.7 million for a mainframe computer as part of the 3-year-old Integrated School Information System (ISIS).

The meeting was set up to give the board a chance to answer inquiries from council members about the system, which is designed to integrate classroom instructional needs with administrative and financialrecords into one computer system.

The system has been in place since 1989, but so far only three schools, Parole Elementary, AnnapolisMiddle and Annapolis High, are fully hooked into it, school officials said.

Half of the 120 schools are using ISIS in some modified form, said William H. Scott, assistant superintendent for administration.

In some 40 other schools, principals are keeping attendance records, including data on the race and sex of those absent, with pencils and paper, said board President Jo Ann Tollenger.

Without good record-keeping, board officials said, they don't have the information necessary to make decisions on everything from stepped-up funding forminority achievement programs to hiring more classroom aides or teachers for a particular school.

"We can't continue to operate an organization this large without basic technology," Tollenger told the council. "You hold the board accountable, and I certainly don't mind being held accountable, but I do mind when I can't get the tools necessary to collect the data to make the right decisions."

CouncilwomanDiane Evans, an Arnold Republican, said she's concerned that the ISIS program is being mismanaged. It has had four directors through fiveyears and has no firm price tag attached to it. She also noted that it has no firm target date for implementation.

In touring the schools and talking with administrators, she said, it is often difficult to get a firm answer on whether particular computers and classroom programs were purchased with ISIS money or with other funds.

"ISIS appears to have been a clever marketing strategy to solicit money out of the County Council for computers," she said. "There is no overall plan or integration."

Scott said ISIS is seen as a "starter unit" to get computers into the schools and to be used to maximize the potential of the hundreds of computers purchased by the school system anddonated to it.

"We're not interested in creating an entity in itself, but creating a program as a start-up unit and integrating the regular school program into it," Scott said.

Joseph Novotny, the council auditor, said the board has asked for $1.7 million to purchase amainframe computer as part of the ISIS program.

The school board's budget is being reviewed by County Executive Robert R. Neall, who has said he might try to avoid that $1.7 million expense by having some school board computer functions, such as payroll chores, taken overby county government computers.

If Neall strikes ISIS money out of his May 1 budget, the council has the authority to reinstate it.

In their presentation yesterday, school officials said transferring school board computer chores to county government computers wouldn't work. The school's payroll tasks are tied in to a host of other needsthat must be taken as a package, and the county government computersdo not have the capacity to take over the entire package, school officials said.

"The county has excess capacity for computing, but the county does not have the storage capacity that we need," said Scott.

Scott said there are no firm cost figures or deadline for implementing ISIS because the project is so massive -- integrating one computer system that can handle everything from 67,000 student report cards to payroll functions for 7,000 board employees.

Scott said IBM representatives told the school board in 1989 that the ISIS system could cost $51 million. But he said that estimate was based on a bid that has since been rejected by the schools.

The cost "may be more than that," Scott said. "I seriously doubt it will be less than that."

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