Wisconsin School Phone System Problem

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Ongoing problem they say - not sure if Y2K or the latest problem may be Y2K...

Glitch again halts waukesha school's new phone service

3 high schools, 2 middle schools and others cut off starting at 7:30 a.m.

By Mike Johnson of the Journal Sentinel staff

Last Updated: Jan. 6, 2000

Waukesha - An ongoing problem with Waukesha schools' new voice and computer network came to a head Thursday when three high schools, two middle schools and some elementary schools were without phone service starting at about 7:30 a.m.

It is the latest glitch in the $1.7 million phone and network system, which has been in operation since August 1998.

"We haven't had a time when the network has been up and running for 30 straight days," said Bill Smojver, the district's director of technology.

Consequently, the district is withholding final payment of about $250,000 to Mitel Communication Solutions and Milgo Solutions, the companies the district contracted with to provide the computer, video and voice network that links all of the district's buildings.

The contract for the work allows the district to withhold payment until the system is operating for 30 consecutive days.

On Thursday, no calls could be made into or out of the schools. People attempting to reach the schools got busy signals, no answer or connected to an individual school's automated switchboard, which then cut off the call after an option was selected.

Kathy Runte, executive assistant to Superintendent David Schmidt, said she received only a few phone calls at the district's main office from people wondering if there were problems with the phones. The main office was not affected by the network problem.

The callers were not upset and were satisfied when they were told officials were working to correct the problem, she said.

A spokesman for Mitel said the company is continuing to work at correcting the problems with the network.

Late Thursday, it was not clear whether phone service had been restored.

"The school district is an important customer. We're working diligently with the district to resolve communication problems as they arise," said Ted Wieler, corporate counsel for Mitel.

Wieler said each Waukesha school has two emergency phones that bypass the system and allow for calls to be made in emergencies.

In addition, Smojver said, each school office has a cellular telephone that can be used.

In the past, most of the problems have affected the computer and data side of the system, Smojver said, noting that the system at times has crashed every other day.

This has meant that teachers, administrators, students and others have been unable to use the Internet or access e-mail, he said.

The crashes also have prevented the district from using during the down period a software system that records attendance, grades and handles various accounting and business functions for the district, Smojver said.

"We should not be experiencing these types of outages," he said.

The companies recently replaced major parts of the hardware system, Smojver said, and until Thursday's crash, the system had run for 25 straight days.

"They made significant changes to the system. Unfortunately, we're back where we were before," he said. "They still haven't been able to tell us what the problem was before.

"Our confidence is not very high," Smojver said.

Smojver said district officials are studying their options, including talking with other vendors on the costs to change the network system.

Said Robert Buchholtz, the district's executive director of business services, "It's really a frustrating dilemma."

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), January 07, 2000

-- Sheri Nakken (wncy2k@nccn.net), January 07, 2000

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