Payroll panic

Baltimore County: School system's failure to fix Y2K problem raises doubts about management skills.

November 29, 1999

THE FOLKS in Baltimore County's public schools who were responsible for making the system's computers Y2K compliant should wear dunce caps for the rest of the year. They should be mighty embarrassed for spending at least $282,000 and possibly as much as $650,000 to ensure that the system's 17,000 employees get their paychecks in the new year.

Like so many other jurisdictions, school officials knew they had a Y2K problem.

But what did they do? School offcials working to replace the system's decade-old computer system hit technical problems and won't be done in time. And they can't guarantee that a rushed effort to upgrade the current system for Y2K compliancewill be successful.

So the school board -- now faced with a crisis -- has agreed to a contract with ADP Inc. to back them up: If the system's computers don't work, ADP will step in to make sure checks get issued -- at prices that could dip deeply into the school system's coffers.

That's what happens when you do things at the last minute (something any good manager should know) and it's precisely why school administrators should have been more on the ball.

ka-10 School officials point out that the ADP program is not a total waste. The system has never had a disaster plan for its payroll. Had lightning struck, the payroll couldn't be prepared. Now, ADP can help out in any emergency.

That's a clever recovery, but it doesn't excuse official incompetence in this matter. Dunce caps might be the least humiliating thing school leaders suffer before the ball drops on New Year's Eve.

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