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LAUSD dismisses outside consultant on MiSiS program

Vanessa Romo | October 29, 2014

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Superintendent Ramon Cortines has cancelled the contract for one of LA Unified’s top project managers on MiSiS as part of a larger effort to play a more active role in solving the software issues with the new student-data system.

Bria Jones, an IT consultant who secured a lucrative $280,800 a year deal with the district, was told Tuesday her contract would be terminated “for the Convenience of the District” effective Oct. 31. She’s been instructed to deliver any materials related to her work on the project by the close of business the same day.

In April Jones’ contract was extended for an additional year, through June 20, 2015.

Although Jones described herself as providing “day-to-day project direction and management of the MiSiS team” and took credit for “restoring trust in the project outcomes and on-time deliveries” — both, from her LinkedIn profile — Ron Chandler, the district’s Chief Information Officer, said Jones’ role was limited to “oversee different parts of the development of specifications and code development.”

Still, in an earlier interview with LA School Report about Jones just two months ago, Chandler defended the quality of her work, saying, “She’s leading part of the team and she’s done a great job.”

Jones was hired under a sole-source contract in 2012 to oversee the MiSiS project after district officials determined there were no other viable experts to handle the complexities of the program, according to a district procurement official, George Silva.

Silva said Chandler’s office sought multiple candidates for the position, and finding no others to meet the complexity and urgency of the project, solicited opinions from experts in the IT field, and that led the district to Jones.

Ultimately, the school board approved Jones’ contract, but in an August meeting Tamar Galatzan asked the district’s Inspector General, as part of its investigation of what went wrong with MiSiS, to look into how Jones came to be the only candidate for the job.

Jones declined requests for comment on her dismissal, saying only, “I plan to take a few weeks to reflect.”

The termination of Jones is the latest move by Cortines to whip the MiSiS team into shape after weeks of denial by John Deasy about the gravity of system’s problems and how many students it affected.

Since taking over Cortines has dispatched chief deputy Matt Hill to work intensively with the IT team trying to fix the seemingly endless set of bugs in the system. Rumors emerged that Hill’s office had been relocated from the executive floor down to the 10th, where the MiSiS team works. But district officials denied such a move had occurred.

Meanwhile, it is unclear what will happen to the man appointed by Deasy to serve as the “third party” liaison with the IT division. Arnold Viramontes was hired by the former superintendent in late August, when Deasy decided he needed someone “who is knowledgeable about changing student informations systems, to give insight into are we making enough changes, are we making our changes correctly.”

Viramontes, who reported directly to Deasy, has only met with Cortines once but he’s been working with Hill and Chandler to learn more about the student data management system, according to Communications Director, Lyida Ramos.

For now, Viramontes is under contract with the district through February 2015. Ramos said he’s expected to deliver a report containing “information that we can then use to refine the operations of the MiSiS project” by Nov 18.

Viramontes previously headed the IT department at the Houston Independent School District. Prior to that he was Chief of Staff for the Dallas Independent School District, where he was instrumental in launching an online “Parent Portal” that was supposed to help parents keep tabs on their kid’s attendance, homework assignments, and grades.

While the system appears to have been successful initially, it was shut down shortly after the roll out for being too costly to run.

* Adds information about Bria Jones’ contract

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