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Jefferson County schools may have to ditch computer software. bmpostarcdb The Associated Press 3/30/00 1:59 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- State education officials might force the troubled Jefferson County school system to drop a $5 million computer program that may have contributed to the schools' accounting problems.
State Superintendent Ed Richardson hasn't made a decision yet, but the school system may be ordered to replace its five-year-old, $5 million Oracle database with a less expensive one. The Jefferson County system is the only one in the state that uses it.
The state Education Department took over the school system last month after an audit found its financial records were out of balance by $51 million. The system is $20 million in debt and is projected to run up to a $16 million deficit.
Critics have complained from the beginning that the Oracle software was too difficult to operate and 50 times more expensive than a program used by 119 other systems in Alabama. With time, many began to attribute financial problems to the software.
"Other computer systems do the same things and cost nowhere near $5 million," said Robert Morton, the education department's finance director.
But the database's defenders argued that Oracle is a worldwide leader in storing and processing information, from balancing finances to ordering classroom materials. It also has a security system that limits users to certain tasks based on their job descriptions.
"I think it was a good investment," said former county superintendent Bruce Wright, who left office last week
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