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Amid rising MiSiS costs, LAUSD board wants soul-searching study

Craig Clough | June 11, 2015

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stephen engish

Bond Oversight Committee Chairman Stephen English

The LA Unified school board unanimously approved $79.6 million in bond funding on Tuesday to help fix the problematic and glitchy student data computer system known as MiSiS, but it also agreed to do some soul searching as a result of the expenditure.

The request for the funds from the district came with a unanimous recommendation from the district’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC), which also recommended the district undertake a large study of its approach to IT issues and figure out essentially why it has bungled so many of them in recent years. The new funds are supposed to cover the costs of fixing the system over the next near.

The recommendation was delivered to the board at its Tuesday meeting by BOC Chairman Stephen English, who had some harsh words for the board members and spoke to them like a stern father about to turn the keys back over to a child who has already crashed the family car twice.

“In recent years there have been multiple projects that have had epic problems that hugely increased costs, took far too long to implement, imposed great difficulties on users and others impacted by these issues or failed to perform all that such programs or systems should be doing,” English said. “There is no need to go into details because you are all aware of these facts.”

English also added that the recommendation for a study done by outside experts would be to help determine “if the way we are doing things now is the best that can be done.” 

The study comes as problems associated with MiSiS continue to escalate. The board’s approval of the new funds brings the total MiSiS cost to $133 million, after the initial estimate in 2013 was $29 million to build a fully functional system. But that was before the system failed on a massive scale at the start of the 2014-15 school year, causing the cost to soar.

Combined with the district’s now infamous and failed $1.3 billion iPads-for-all project, which was also paid for with bond funds, it has had several high-profile tech failures over the last year.

The estimated cost of the study, who would head it up and what its timetable would be was left up to Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who said he would also want district staff participating in conducting the study and that an initial proposal in the resolution for a Dec. 31 deadline was too soon.

Alluding to the very kind of aggressive timeframe issues that helped the distict get into the MiSiS mess to begin with, Cortines said, “We mustn’t rush these things.”

Cortines, who returned to the district as superintendent in October following the resignation of former Superintendent John Deasy, also didn’t seem to appreciate the tounge lashing from English.

“There is no recognition by the BOC of the progress that has been made since October of hundreds of staff members who have worked tirelessly. I have let you know about the mistakes that we have made and how we are correcting them,” Cortines told the board. “There should be a recognition of what the district and the board has approved of since October since you gave me this problem and we have identified the steps we have made.”

In supporting the study, board member Steve Zimmer gave praise to the MiSiS team and its head, Diane Pappas, and likened the need for the study not about  being “the need for a better surgeon, because I think the surgeons have been incredible, but why we were in surgery in the first place.”

In response to Cortines, board member Monica Ratliff, who co-sponsored the resolution along with Bennett Kayser and added an amendment to it calling for the study, pointed out that the resolution included a statement from the BOC that it was “favorably impressed with the turnaround on this project since it has been reorganized,” along with other praises. Cortines thanked her for pointing it out.


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