Fort Worth

Fort Worth district audit finds $2.7 million in unneeded technology

More than $2.7 million worth of computer equipment and technology purchased by the Fort Worth school district was either “unncessary” or is still sitting idle after seven years, an internal audit shows.

The audit says the district paid $1.8 million for unneeded educational technology, then paid another $823,380 for software — never used — for business and personnel operations. The district also paid hundreds of thousands in annual maintenance fees on unused equipment.

Unless the payments are stopped, Fort Worth will pay another $85,029.71 this year, warns the audit, dated June 16. The district’s internal auditor also says the district paid twice for the same hardware and was overcharged by $12,100 for two years of annual maintenance fees.

The district’s technology chief, who was hired after the 2007 purchase, said the district expects to stop paying the fees and wants to recoup some of the lost money.

“We’ll definitely have our legal services department look into this,’’ Chief Technology Director Kyle Davie said in a July 3 interview.

He is recommending that a committee be set up to decide whether the system should be replaced. Only parts of it are in use now, he said.

“At some point there would have to be a discussion about whether do we continue with this program or do we look to replace it with another solution,” Davie said.

The hardware and software were purchased from Tyler Technologies, a national public-sector software provider with an office in Plano.

“Tyler works directly with clients to address any billing or audit questions,” a Tyler spokesman wrote in response to questions from the Star-Telegram.

The company spokesman said that the company has more than 11,000 clients, including states, municipalities and school districts. Almost 1,350 school districts use Tyler’s school financial solutions, the spokesman said.

Board President Norman Robbins said he had not seen the audit and the board has not discussed it. The report most likely would be presented during an audit committee meeting of board members and staff. An audit committee meeting date hadn’t been set, he said Thursday.

Problems from the beginning

In 2007, the district had to replace a legacy system that managed payroll, personnel data, payments to vendors and budget data, school officials said. The software was also expected to manage student data, including transcripts and attendance records.

“It was an end-of-life program and we had to change,’’ Davie said. “They were in essence shutting it down because they couldn’t do all the upgrades. The district didn’t have a choice.

“We had to do something.”

The district believed it was more cost-effective to buy a suite of software and hardware from Tyler, rather than purchase equipment separately, Davie said.

The hope was that the automated system could produce payroll, student attendance records and checks for vendors.

But problems surfaced almost as soon as it was deployed, interim Superintendent Pat Linares said.

In a 2009 district audit, flaws in payroll software caused overpayments of more than $1.54 million to district employees and staffers. Then in January 2010, a former school district employee filed a whistle-blower lawsuit saying she was fired after telling administrators about problems with the new payroll system. (The district paid her $135,000 in 2012 to settle the lawsuit and reinstated her.)

Linares, who retired as a deputy superintendent from the school district in 2010, said she remembers the payroll problems.

“There were concerns that [the technology] didn’t meet all the needs of the district,” Linares said. “It seemed more compatible for municipalities.”

In 2012, the district faced problems with an aspect of the software that handled student data. It was producing inaccurate transcripts, incomplete grade reports and incorrect attendance records.

Different departments have had “differing levels” of success with the system, Davie said. The chief complaint was that it was not customized to fit the district’s needs, he said.

Other issues came into play. For example, employees needed time to learn the new system, Davie said, and it is normal to have a gradual ramp-up.

“When you buy these products, you buy an entire suite,” Davie said. “And as you implement the product throughout the district, you’ll turn on different applications. You don’t turn them on all on Day 1. People have to learn how to use the various systems that are dependent upon one another.”

He also said individual departments needed to step up.

“While I do concur that all technology purchases should be fully used by the district, it is also the responsibility of the individual departments to ensure they are utilizing the products we procure on their behalf,” Davie wrote in his response to the internal auditor. “I will continue to work collaboratively with them to ensure we do this districtwide.”

Neither Davie nor Linares was involved in the decision to sign the contract with Tyler Technologies. Linares was in another department, and Davie was hired by the district just as the board was voting to purchase the equipment in 2007.

The audit reviewed transactions from October 2007 to November 2013.

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