Ohio - 31 School districts struggling with Y2k conversion; creating more bugs

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Thu, Jan 13, 2000

Schools struggle with new software AVON LAKE -- A needed conversion to a new computer software program has cost local school districts thousands of dollars and hours of headaches, and some administrators fear their problems have only begun.

The big test will come in the next two weeks when the new software is supposed to calculate grades and print report cards.

The Morning Journal spoke with five local administrators, a sample of the 31 school districts struggling to switch over to the software. Across the board, the officials identified the same problems: -- Thousands of pieces of data did not convert from the old system and had to be manually entered.

-- Customizing the software for each individual district has left a number of 'bugs.' -- The program may not be ready to calculate and report grades accurately in time for the end of the semester.

Since December, the software has been plugged in across Lorain County, as well as six school districts in western Cuyahoga County, seven in Medina County, and one each in Erie and Huron counties. The 31 districts, from Westlake to New London to Vermilion, are all members of the Elyria-based Lake Erie Educational Computer Association, known as LEECA.

The association is supported by both state funds and district fees in exchange for providing computer and other support services, said Jim Sheets, LEECA's administrator and assistant superintendent of the Educational Service Center.

Nearly four years ago, LEECA realized the software used in its districts for student services, handling everything from report cards to course scheduling, was not Y2K compliant, Sheets said.

Association officials had two choices: switch to a similar program that can read the year 2000, or serve as a test area for a new system believed to be the wave of the future for every school in Ohio.

The new system had been used in North Carolina with great success, but its conversion to Ohio schools hasn't been easy, officials agreed. Perhaps the biggest problem has been the custom-fitting districts have found necessary.

Unlike North Carolina, Ohio schools offer different courses and calculate grades under different formulas.

Making the new software 'fit' each school has meant months of work, thousands of dollars and feelings bordering on complete frustration, administrators said.

'Pieces and parts will just be missing,' said Avon Lake High School Principal Mike Swank of the new program. 'Or you'll have a field that will work today and not tomorrow. Or it won't let you save.'

Despite LEECA's efforts, more than 30 different 'bugs' remained at the beginning of this week, all waiting for the software company's urgent attention, said Denny Woods, superintendent of Bay Village Schools.

Compounding the situation has been the time factor.

Instead of beginning the switch from old to new systems in August as planned, delays in delivery meant many districts did not begin conversion until December.

With some information refusing to translate neatly as promised, districts have found themselves manually entering thousands of pieces of information into the new system.

'Almost every event has become a mini-crisis,' Woods said. 'It's been extremely slow.'

After months of grappling with the program, some officials worry about even bigger problems in the coming weeks.

'We've spent so much time working on this,' Swank said. 'But it hasn't impacted people outside the working office yet. This is the time where that may happen. This is where the rubber meets the road.' Like many other districts, Avon Lake officials believe report cards may not be ready in time, or accurate, either.

Schools in the Firelands district are in a similar situation, said Superintendent Finn Laursen.

'I think there will be errors,' he said. 'There are glitches we probably couldn't even imagine until we get there.'

For Vermilion, a district already struggling with reduced staff and a severe financial crunch, the problem has been truly painful, said Interim Superintendent Bruce Keller.

'It is a big concern to us,' Keller said. 'We can't stop the other day-to-day stuff we're dealing with to focus on this. We just don't have the manpower.'

One Vermilion principal spent literally the entire weekend entering data into the new system, trying desperately to get the program ready for report card time, Keller said.

'It's become a frantic pace,' he said wearily. 'I'd just like someone to wave a wand and take care of it all.'

Despite the near-widespread worry, not everyone is terrified about the upcoming report card time.

Ed Branham, director of staff and community relations for Lorain Schools, believes Lorain will be in good shape.

Unlike smaller districts, Lorain was able to assign a number of employees to the conversion as early as August, and the time has paid off, Branham said.

'We're feeling confident and ready to go,' he said.

Still, Lorain's confidence carries a hefty price tag. Adjusting to the new software has cost the district at least $80,000 in manpower, Branham said.

Once districts get to Lorain's level and adjust to the software, the future looks bright. Despite their frustration, administrators across the board believe the new software will be a big improvement.

Unlike the old program, the new system offers graphics, not the often-tricky text-only format, Sheets said.

Teachers will also be able to compile attendance on-line, tabulate grades electronically and turn student information into one huge database, Sheets said.

'It's a good product, and we'll be able to do much more with it,' Swank said. 'From a statistical perspective, it'll be a great tool.' Still, even after the report cards are finished, administrators believe several issues remain. Many worry the data that should be tied to the state's information system hasn't been converted yet. The next big hurdle, scheduling for the next year, is also done by the software, and many districts anticipate another round of problems, or at least delays.

No school in Ohio has begun the scheduling process yet with the new software, Woods said. Administrators don't know how it will perform, but it's safe to assume the 'glitches' aren't over yet, he said. And so educators are asking for patience in the months ahead. 'Errors can and will happen,' Laursen said. 'We're doing our best to take care of them, but parents will need to let us know if they see something that doesn't look right.'

'It may take awhile to work all the bugs out,' said Avon Lake Superintendent Dan Ross. 'People will need to be very patient."

Source: By SARAH FENSKE Morning Journal Writer, The Morning Journal front page, Columbiana County, Ohio


-- Lee Maloney (leemaloney@hotmail.com), January 13, 2000


Hi Great post, Lee, you're doing a great job. This is *classic* y2k. We had to put in a new system, oops, it didn't work. Question: what happens if it NEVER works (and don't think that isn't possible; Kappelman and others estimate 25% of IT projects are complete failures).

-- Bud Hamilton (budham@hotmail.com), January 14, 2000.

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