Computer failure draws U.S. inquiry System that kept records for disabled students being replaced

FBI may be involved

School employees being interviewed

subpoenas issued

March 14, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Federal authorities have issued subpoenas and are interviewing Baltimore school employees about a multimillion-dollar computer system that had to be replaced, city officials said yesterday.

"My understanding is that federal investigators have been following some information or tips or allegations that relate in some way to the operation of the Management Information Systems," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said, referring to the school system's computer department.

He declined to specify the target of the probe and said city lawyers have been cooperating with the U.S. attorney's office. School system sources said the FBI is involved.

Sources familiar with the case characterized it as a preliminary review to determine whether a full investigation is merited. Federal officials refused to comment.

Several school system officials and the mayor implied that the inquiry was linked to disputes within the computer department, which recently has undergone turbulent changes in management and direction.

The department is responsible for the school district's recordkeeping systems, including the computer system used to track services given to disabled students.

That special education computer system is a key issue in a federal lawsuit that has hung over the school system for 11 years. The suit seeks to ensure that disabled students receive the educational benefits and others services they are entitled to under federal law.

The special education computer system cost about $8 million to install and thousands more to retool during attempts to save it that ultimately failed.

Critics had charged that the system was flawed and that the information stored in it was inaccurate, making it impossible for Baltimore to keep adequate records of the services provided to disabled students.

The system was turned off in September, on orders from the federal judge presiding in the lawsuit, and is being replaced at a cost of millions of dollars.

"As you know, there's been an awful lot of money spent up there in the past few years in order to upgrade the computer system and make some changes, all related to special education," Mr. Schmoke said. "And, as you probably know, there is a great deal of turmoil over there regarding personnel problems, people lTC accusing one another of all kinds of misdeeds."

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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