Schools reverse course on data

Older computer program, not SMS, is to produce new student schedules


Four months after giving the go-ahead to continued use of a problematic student data computer program, the Howard County school system has decided to revert to an older program in order to have 15,000 schedules ready for high school students before classes begin at the end of August.

An end-of-the-year data transfer process called a "roll-over" has not been completed, which has resulted in the decision to use the older system in place of the Student Management System (SMS).

"We are going down a parallel path," said Linda Wise, assistant superintendent for school administration. "We are giving ourselves an option."

The problem with SMS has delayed about 15,000 schedules that were supposed to have been mailed to students during the first two weeks of August. Now, students will receive schedules the week of Aug. 21.

Despite the latest setback, top schools officials - including Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin - maintain that there are no plans to abandon the $803,000 SMS program. Cousin said that if the problems with SMS can be resolved in time, the system will use SMS to complete the class schedules.

School administrators and registrars met with top system officials Monday to discuss SMS, and a letter was sent to all high school principals yesterday, informing them of the delay in schedules, school officials said.

Bob Glascock, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who has been the official most involved with the SMS system, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

This week's announcement is the latest in a long list of complaints associated with SMS, which the county started using at all 12 high schools in July last year.

In the first quarter of the 2005-2006 school year, more than 1,700 report cards had to be reprinted because of a mixup in grades. Third-quarter report cards for high school students were distributed a week late because of SMS. And final report cards for seniors were distributed after graduation, although school system officials said the delay did not affect college admissions.

The series of SMS-related failures prompted the Howard County PTA Council to send school PTA presidents a notice in April, asking them to encourage parents to request grade point average ranking sheets and transcripts.

The system spent $650,000 for contracted technical support for the SMS program and $80,000 for the annual maintenance and licensing fees for a contract with the British Columbia-based Chancery Software Ltd., the SMS provider.

The school system also spent $53,000 for overtime costs resulting from SMS and $20,000 for a network analysis performed to help isolate problems with the program.

Wise said yesterday that she did not know how much, if any, the system has spent this summer on overtime associated with SMS-related issues. Wise also said she did not know if more work hours would be needed to prepare the schedules.

"It is still the same process," she said.

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