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Bond panel aide blasts LA Unified for ineffective IT operations

Vanessa Romo | October 30, 2014

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LA UnifiedA consultant to the committee that oversees how LA Unified spends taxpayer bond dollars today recommended a complete overhaul of the district’s Information Technology operations, suggesting the district might consider outsourcing the entire department.

Tom Rubin delivered the report to the Bond Oversight Committee, blasting the IT department and asserting that the recent bungled rollout of MiSiS, the student data computer system, exposed a track record of mismanagement and organizational problems that are prevalent in other district programs.

“We have had a history of major IT problems,” Rubin told the committee. “This is not about specific projects; this is about the the totality of the system: It is broken.”

Despite efforts by hard-working employees, he said, “The failure unfortunately is at the top,” adding that, “too many key people have little knowledge, or interest, and do not wish to change their beliefs and ways of working.”

He suggested the district re-structure the organization of departments, functions and responsibilities to change underlying attitudes and practices “that are systemic to the way that things are done at LAUSD.”

“Be prepared to consider massive changes in the LAUSD way of doing things, up to and including changing ITD to a contracted enterprise,” he warned the committee.

The root of the problem is the district’s “silo-ization,” he said, describing a regimen in which “people in one part of the department have no idea what’s happening on the other side.”

Among his recommendations for reinventing the department are to bring in outside experts, including a panel on large governmental agencies and IT systems, and to change management to oversee and advise the district.

At the district level, Rubin recommended that the school board create an IT committee, as well as a high‐level IT advisory committee made up of external experts to help structure and validate large-scale project plans. Finally, the district’s Chief Information Officer, Ron Chandler, should report directly to the Superintendent, Rubin said.

Rubin also laid into the district for grievously underfunding the IT Division in general and, specifically, MiSiS.

“We get into a situation where we have very limited budgets for doing things right the first time but we have an unlimited budget for correcting these disasters that result to get them up to a minimum level of performance,” he said.

Rubin’s ideas for improving the way LA Unified does business extended beyond the IT department to include the district’s invoicing and bill paying system

But much of his presentation rehashed many of the same criticisms about what went wrong with MiSiS: Developers didn’t listen to feedback from users; there wasn’t enough time or money spent on training; district leadership didn’t communicate-well with people experiencing problems; it took too long to provide sufficient support.

The committee chairman, Stephen English, instructed committee members to “take some time absorb” Rubin’s report before asking questions or coming to any conclusions.

“There’s a lot for us take in here … and his report will be acted by us in a thoughtful way,” English said.

While the BOC can make recommendations to the school board, it remains to be seen if it will engender a will for such massive changes.

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