In Partnership with 74

‘Thorny’ issue of MiSiS is resolved with charters, but cost and other questions remain

Craig Clough | March 23, 2016

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Diane Pappas,LA Unified's CEO of Strategic Planning and Digital Innovation.

Diane Pappas, LA Unified’s CEO of strategic planning and digital innovation

The word “MiSiS” is not generally associated with happy endings at LA Unified, and neither is the district’s increasingly competitive relationship with its 221 independent charter schools, but that was the case earlier this month when the district and its charters announced they had reached an agreement on linking their student data systems to fulfill a court order.

“It just shows that you can make things happen. It just takes the willingness of everyone to work together,” Diane Pappas, CEO of LA Unified’s strategic planning and digital innovation, told LA School Report. “Everyone is happy we have a solution to what was a thorny issue and now we can move forward and get things done.”

But even though the deal has been struck, other issues remain, including that the district now has to develop interface software from scratch that will connect MiSiS, the district’s troubled computer system, and the charter schools’ systems. Another unresolved issue is the cost of the interface, which Pappas declined to estimate.

Cost and functionality are two important questions, considering MiSiS has a history of malfunctions and significant budget overruns. But Pappas said the district believes the cost of developing an interface will be cheaper than installing MiSiS inside each charter school.

“It really would have been a great burden to require that all charters get rid of their existing systems and in addition, it could have been a tremendous burden of money with taxpayer dollars that the MiSiS system be completely customized and reconfigured after we have already gone through such tough times with the system anyways and have to then spend all that additional money,” Pappas said.

The deal to develop interface software satisfied the independent monitor of the district’s special education programs, David Rostetter, and the plaintiffs of the Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree, part of a class-action lawsuit over integrating disabled students into general education classes. This month’s deal was also characterized as “a huge win” for all parties by Gina Plate of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), which negotiated on behalf of LA Unified’s charters.

LA Unified has been under federal court oversight since 1996 as a result of a class-action lawsuit that accused it of non-compliance with special education laws. As part of the settlement, an independent monitor was appointed in 2003 to oversee the district’s compliance with the consent decree.

MiSiS was developed to satisfy part of the consent decree, which called for better tracking of special education student records. Because special education students at LA Unified’s independent charter schools are part of the same special education district, the decree required charters to also take on MiSiS.

But when the system launched in 2014 it was glitchy and malfunctioning. The influx of extra money has helped stabilize MiSiS, but charters were still reluctant to adopt the system, and the district ultimately came to agree with them after a year and a half of negotiations.

Papps said the development of the interface will likely take up to two years, but because 83 percent of charters use one of two systems, much of the work will be streamlined. She added that some of the cost of developing the interface will come out of the existing MiSiS budget, but the district will have to approach the Bond Oversight Committee and the school board for additional funds.

The deal that was struck and outlined in a March 10 letter to the LA Unified school board and Superintendent Michelle King from Pappas and Charter Schools Division Director José Cole-Gutiérrez calls on LA Unified to develop interface software that will allow MiSiS to communicate with charters’ data systems.

“One of the lessons the district has learned when it comes to MiSiS is what’s it going to look like in terms of on the ground, what’s practical?” said Cole-Gutiérrez. “To the team’s credit, they really looked at this from the vision to the practical aspects to say, ‘How do we best work together to make this happen?’ The result is what we have come to.”

LA Unified still has other areas of the consent decree to fulfill, and Rostetter and key officials have estimated that it will likely be several more years before the district will be relieved of court monitoring.

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