Fort Worth

Fort Worth school district must repay millions to state

The Fort Worth school district must reimburse the state between $37 million and $39 million after an internal investigation revealed that a computer software program miscalculated the average daily attendance of certain students during a three-year period.

“We have launched a complete investigation as to what happened,” said interim Superintendent Patricia Linares.

The error was discovered when student data for the 2013-2014 school year was being analyzed under a new computer system, Linares said. School districts gather student data that is sent to the state under the Public Education Information Management System, or PEIMS.

The state provides funding to school districts based on average daily attendance and provides additional money for students attending various programs, including bilingual, English as a Second Language, gifted and talented, and special education.

The miscalculation in Fort Worth involved students in bilingual and ESL programs.

“We have to return the money that has been given to us,” Linares said. “We will do that.”

The district will reimburse the state with money that is currently in reserves, or fund balance, which is where the overpayments from the state went.

The district is working with the Texas Education Agency to determine protocol on the repayment, according to a district news release. The money will be paid back by the end of the 2014-15 school year, officials said.

District officials said they expect to have an estimated $102 million in reserves — even after the money is reimbursed.

The reimbursement to the state will not affect academic programs or a planned three-percent pay increase for employees, Linares said.

“All of our educational opportunities, that we have for our children, will continue,” Linares said. “We are having no impact on the educational programing of our children. We will continue to provide them with the best educational opportunities available to them.”

The district self-reported the error to the TEA and is working on a corrective plan. The district is also working with an outside attorney, who is trying to determine what happened and what recourse is available to the district.

The school board was notified on Wednesday.

“Not only was this situation disappointing but it is completely unacceptable,” school board President Norman Robbins in a statement. “But we are very appreciative of the staff for finding this error this month and ensuring corrections are made to next year’s budget.”

Trustee Ann Sutherland said she wants to know exactly how the issue will affect the 2014-2015 budget.

“It’s a tragedy that this problem was not caught earlier,” Sutherland said. “Some changes will have to be made to the budget as a consequence of this error.”

Sutherland said she recently voted against the 2014-2015 budget because she believes the spending level is “unsustainable.”

Huge jump in figures

Officials say the problem appears to be with a computer coding error in software purchased from Tyler Techologies, a vendor with offices in Plano.

“Tyler Technologies has not been notified by the Fort Worth ISD of any software development issues,” the company said in a written statement. “As a standard practice, Tyler Technologies is fully supportive of our clients and we resolve issues directly with them. If the school district contacts us, we will work to address any questions they might have regarding the use of our software.”

Officials said initial investigation revealed that problems began in the 2010-2011 school year when students were being counted for daily bilingual or ESL programs even if they were no longer in the programs, said Deputy Superintendent Michael Sorum.

School district data shows that the average daily attendance was 21,662 during the 2009-2010 school year. It jumped to 39,023 during the 2010-2011 school year. The following two school years the numbers 38,975 and 38,924, respectively.

“That’s a significant jump,” Linares said, adding that this year, under a different computer program, the average daily attendance was recorded at 22,626.

Trouble with technology

Since signing on with Tyler Technologies in 2007, technology problems have plagued the administrations of two previous superintendents, Melody Johnson (who resigned in 2011) and Walter Dansby (who resigned in June).

“There’s been issues throughout and we’ve worked with the vendor to try to get them resolved,” said Kyle Davie, the district’s chief technology officer.

Davie said he began working with the Tyler Technologies system as soon as he came onboard with the district in 2007.

“The system was already in final procurement stages when I arrived to the district,” Davie said.

A recent audit said that the Fort Worth district purchased $2.7 million worth of computer equipment and technology that was “unnecessary” or is still sitting idle.

The district purchased software and hardware from Tyler in 2007, and in 2009 flaws in the payroll software resulted in over payments of more than $1.54 million to district employees and staffers.

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 in a previous article that 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.”

This article contains information from Star-Telegram archives.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram