Washington D.C. - Prince Geo County needs $8 mill technology upgrade for schools

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

When Schools Can't Compute

Curry Backs $8 Million Upgrade

By David Nakamura, Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 8, 2000; Page M03

Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) is recommending that the county immediately give the school system $8 million to upgrade the system's central office technology, which should help improve bus routing, personnel accounting and pupil services.

The money--about 8 percent of the county's current surplus--was requested this year by School Superintendent Iris T. Metts. She has complained that her staff is using 25-year-old computers with outdated software that have about "six weeks of life" remaining.

"For a system our size, we require a state-of-the-art information technology system, and we don't have that. We've never had that," Curry said, while announcing his plan before state, county and school officials Monday in Annapolis.

A study by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, released this year, showed that Prince George's County and Baltimore are way behind the rest of the state's school systems in both the number and the quality of the computers in the schools.

County officials said Curry's proposal, which would be an addition to the school system's initial fiscal 2000 operating budget request of $876 million, is unprecedented because Prince George's officials have rarely given the school system what it has asked for, much less offered extra funds.

The county has more than $100 million in its surplus, and Curry said he sees his proposal as an "investment, not an expense."

"Dividends will be expected," he said. Flanked by county delegates to the General Assembly, school officials and county government leaders, Curry and Metts hailed the move as a sign that the school system and county government are working together more amiably than they had in the last few years, which were marked by nasty squabbles over money and management.

Last spring, Curry denied a special request from the county's Board of Education for $17 million to go toward raising teachers' salaries. Curry said at the time that while he supported more money for teachers, the school board had not presented a plan to allocate the funds and he could not trust that it would spend the money wisely.

He said Metts's request "is very different" because she has presented a comprehensive five-year plan outlining how she intends to improve the school system, through technology and other resources, and has specified what officials can expect in the way of improved student achievement.

The County Council must approve Curry's proposal before a transfer of funds takes place. Council Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills), who was at the news conference in Annapolis, said she supports the proposal and believes her colleagues will ratify it quickly.

"It's more than appropriate," Bailey said. "I don't expect a challenge."

Metts has been critical of the system's technology, both in the central office and in its 185 schools, since she took over last July. Many of her comments echo the findings of a 1998 independent audit of the system that said outdated technology in the central office resulted in voluminous and time-consuming paperwork, which cost the system millions.

Delayed paychecks to employees, mis-routed buses that left some students stranded and slow processing of personnel records that have hurt teacher recruiting are just some of the problems that have plagued the school system because of its poor technology, officials said.

Under Metts's plan, the school system will be able to purchase software and, eventually, hire contractors to store information in a central data bank. Employees with the proper clearance will be able to access any information they need by logging into the centralized system.

Perhaps the most dramatic difference would come with the computerization of the busing system. Currently, much of the routing is done by a single employee who writes down bus routes on hundreds of colored slips of paper and hangs them on dozens of large charts on the walls of the transportation office. Changes to the bus routes involve the laborious and archaic process of writing a new route on a new piece of paper and rehanging it.

"We can finally take down the little sticky notes," Metts quipped, as Curry and others chuckled.

County officials recounted their own horror stories about how the school system's inferior technology affected them.

Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D-Cheverly) said that one of his first meetings with Metts occurred because one of Baker's three children had been stranded at school after a bus failed to arrive due to a scheduling mix-up.

Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Forestville) said that the school system, which has about 14,000 employees, has trouble keeping track of its accounting. The central office "doesn't know where all of [its employees] are and if they're even working or not," Currie said.

Metts said that the investment in new technology eventually will pay for itself. The new software will cut down on paperwork and staff, meaning the system will save money that can, in turn, be spent on raises for teachers and principals, she said.

The superintendent did not estimate how much money would be saved but suggested that the savings would begin in about one more year, after she has installed the new technology and trained her staff to use it.


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

Moderation questions? read the FAQ