Phila. school district criticized over timing of computer meetinggreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Phila. school district criticized over timing of computer meeting
Eight people who work with the district's new computers were at a Florida conference as the system's woes arose.
By Susan Snyder INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
While the Philadelphia School District was making what has since become a problematic transition to a new computer system, it sent a team of eight technology-savvy, central-office workers - including the man spearheading the transition - to a four-day computer conference in Orlando, Fla.
Some union officials, who have complained in recent weeks about payroll problems associated with the new system, have questioned the timing of the trip, which was held at the Wyndham Palace Hotel in the Disney World Resort from Sept. 19-22.
But district officials say that the team left before they knew the new $26 million system had problems and that the conference offered much worthwhile information about it.
"From our perspective, they could not have gone at a worse time and probably shouldn't have gone," said Hal Moss, chief information officer for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
"Are you sure they weren't in Disney World instead of at the training session?" quipped Thomas Doyle, president of the union that represents bus drivers, custodians and other workers. "Obviously the training didn't work too well because we're still having problems."
The conference was put on by American Management Systems Inc., the company from which the school district bought its new payroll, purchasing and human resources system.
The trip cost the district about $15,000 - $5,600 in conference registration costs and about $9,200 in airfare, other transportation, hotels, some meals and business phone calls, said Barbara Grant, the district's chief spokeswoman.
"This was a conference for governmental agencies, for people struggling with the kinds of things we're struggling with," she said. "It was an opportunity for our people to get additional expertise on a very complicated system and to share with other school districts the challenges we're all facing and solutions to some of the problems we all have in common."
Fourteen other school districts, including Los Angeles, Baltimore and Norfolk, sent teams ranging from one to 16 people to the conference.
Philadelphia's contingent - nearly a third of the staff involved in the transition to the new computer system - included representatives from the human resources, information technology and finance departments. Herbert Schectman, the district's acting executive director of financial resources, who is spearheading the district's conversion to the new computer system, also attended.
Moss, the teachers' union spokesman, said district officials should have had at least an inkling that there were some problems with the system by the Friday before the trip, the date of the first payroll. He said complaints were rolling in that day.
Grant said that was not the case.
"We didn't even have a response center open at that point. We were thinking things were going fairly smoothly," she said.
Schectman got his first call about problems on the last day of the conference, Grant said. He returned the next day to set up the response center, she said.
Still, Michael Axelrod, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, which represents principals, said the district team should not have left during such a crucial transition time.
"It brings up the whole idea of not being sensitive to the school calendar," he said. "Some of these people were key to the day-to-day operation."
Grant said the school district could not control the timing of the conference.
Randy Roth, an AMS vice president, said the conference offered key information about new technology and how agencies can best prepare for it.
The conference registration fee did cover social sessions such as the "Tropical Paradise" welcome reception and the "Ringin' in Y2K" theme party, according to the AMS literature. The conference information also notes that the hotel is "a short ride to Universal Studios and other Orlando attractions."
Grant pointed out that such attractions are typical for a conference. "They have them in cities where people want to go. I'm sure people did relax in the evening," she said.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 10, 1999