November 22, 2011

Fort Worth school district puts software vendor on notice

The Dallas-based company was given 30 days to correct problems that include giving students credit for the same class twice, issuing wrong credits and accounting for absences incorrectly.

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FORT WORTH -- School officials have put a vendor on notice that they are fed up with software problems that have plagued the Fort Worth school district since it implemented the system.

Interim Superintendent Walter Dansby said issues this year include giving students credit for the same class twice, issuing wrong credits and accounting for absences incorrectly.

Last month, the district gave Dallas-based Tyler Technologies 30 days to correct any problems with its software system, which manages student data for the district. If the problems persist, district officials said in a letter, they could terminate the contract or seek legal action.

"This is a bold step for us, but we need to take a bold step to make sure that our kids get the very best," Dansby said. "I just don't feel like we're getting what we should be from this company."

Dansby also said he has launched an internal audit of the software system.

Tyler representatives declined to comment.

The letter states that the company's software is unsuitable for the district's needs and that Tyler has failed to correct problems.

"The Fort Worth ISD has lost confidence in Tyler's ability to design and implement a student data system," says the letter, dated Nov. 16.

Kyle Davie, the district's chief of technology, said some of the letter is a "misstatement" as Tyler has worked with the district to address concerns as they have arisen. However, some training and software needs, such as reporting state data and class-scheduling capabilities, still need to be addressed.

Dansby and Davie concede that the district is partly responsible for the lack of training.

"Where I see the biggest gap is in the training," Davie said. "That is something that we've told them they need to step up immediately to make sure that we don't run into user issues. But before we give them any more money, we felt that it was timely to let them know that we've had some challenges."

The district paid $4.9 million for the software system and is set to renew or reject the $164,000-a-year service agreement in July.

The programs' glitches

One issue with student transcripts was that the new system allowed them to be printed anytime by faculty members, which resulted in an ever-changing range of class rankings depending on when teachers turned in grades. The district will now print out transcripts from central administration only on specific dates.

The district began using the Tyler Technologies payroll software in January 2009 and shortly after the conversion struggled with many problems and overpaid employees and former employees about $1.5 million. An internal audit found that a lack of training on the software was a key factor.

In 2010, teachers and staff complained that the student software system had glitches that caused grades to disappear and reappear, wouldn't allow school nurses to input immunization records as needed and caused huge scheduling conflicts that led to some students spending days -- and sometimes weeks-- in the wrong class.

A districtwide committee looked at issues, and many principals said at a school board meeting in the spring that while the implementation had been rough, schools were adjusting. The principals urged trustees to stay with the software.

Other agencies' problems

Other public agencies have also had issues with Tyler, alleging that the company misrepresented products and made promises it didn't keep.

In 2009, Jefferson County in Missouri filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Tyler, saying its property tax software did not function as promised and was unusable. That case was dismissed at the county's urging, according to court records.

Ventura, Calif., sued the company in 2006 claiming intentional misrepresentation, and Tyler filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. Tyler and the city settled a year later, according to court records. In Washington state, the Spokane Regional Health District sued after dropping Tyler's payroll system about six months into use. Officials there settled with Tyler in 2008.

"There were promises of what the system could do and when it got here it couldn't," said Torney Smith, agency administrator for the Spokane Regional Health District. "It simply didn't do what it advertised it to do."

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

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