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Cortines promises fixes for LAUSD’s flawed computer program

Vanessa Romo | October 21, 2014

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updates1In his first open address to the LA Unified school board since he was rehired as superintendent last week, Ramon Cortines promised accountability, transparency and constant communication.

“I know the buck stops here,” he told the seven members during a brief address that included an update on the district’s flawed student data software program, MiSiS.

Cortines, who got an early start on the job Monday morning and spent the day in intensive meetings with the district’s top leadership, quipped, “I’ve been here two days going on 10 years.”

Then he outlined a series of changes to MiSiS that will be effective immediately.

At the top of the list is a two-month extension to Dec. 1, from the previous deadline, Oct. 23, for schools to submit the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced meal program, which determines the allocation of federal dollars to individual campuses for low-income students.

A school is eligible for Title I money only if at least half of the student body is enrolled in the federal meals program. A school receives even more money per pupil if at least 65 percent of low-income students qualify. When a campus reaches a threshold above 85 percent combined free and reduced lunch it becomes exempt from collecting applications for four years.

School administrators have been struggling for months to process applications and maintain an accurate count of students who have filed the paperwork due to problems with MiSiS. They’ve been imploring the district for a reprieve from the deadline which was just a couple days away.

“It’s always been hard to get families to file these applications,” board President Richard Vladovic told LA School Report. “Many are fearful of revealing their immigration status, and middle school kids are not very good about taking applications to their parents. But this money goes directly to supporting kids, and that’s why I love this extension.”

“I want to make sure we get the count right,” he added.

Flora Mendoza, a Title I Coordinator at San Fernando High School, and a team of four other school employees have been working the last few Saturdays to update the bug plagued system.

“I’ve been working basically around the clock to make sure these applications get in,” she told LA School Report, adding that in a “normal year we would have submitted our final numbers two months ago.”

“At this point we have maybe 260 applications to go,” she said. The big stumbling block in getting it done has been MiSiS’s inability to retrieve accurate student rosters. “The most basic thing,” she said.

Upon hearing of the extension she expressed relief. “I’m so happy to hear about it but it’s bitter sweet. I wish we wouldn’t have had to kill ourselves trying to meet the deadline for so long,” she said.

The directive to push back the deadline, issued shortly before the school board meeting began, came from Donna Muncey, the district’s Chief of Intensive Support & Intervention. In a letter, Muncey assured the board that “functionalities have been added [to MiSiS] that now allow reports to be sorted by class, teacher, period, etc.” and the district’s Cafeteria Management System is loading data feeds into MiSiS nightly.

Other changes Cortines is setting into effect include weekly updates on the progress of MiSiS fixes and regular meetings with the third-party liaison previously appointed by former superintendent John Deasy. Cortines also said he intends to open up more open communication channels with the district’s labor partners, including the teachers union, UTLA, and the administrators union, AALA.

“So we can inform our work based on the needs that they find in the work place,” he said.

Cortines said he plans to present the board with a cost estimate for resolving the ongoing MiSiS issues in the near future. He said he first wanted to determine the amount of bond and general fund money he might have to siphon off from other projects

He also said he needs time to review the report released by the court-appointed Independent Monitor and the Inspector General’s report, which is expected to be made public soon.

“I’m going to take some time, not a long time, but those reports should be the foundation as we go forward,” he said.

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