Y2K still bugging schools

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COMPUTERS, A12 Y2K still bugging schools

Memo to Metts says problems were predicted in 1996

By NICOLE BARNES Journal staff writer

Computer delays that recently caused Prince George's County schools data clerks to spend up to 40 minutes entering grades for a single student could have been easily avoided if school administrators had heeded warnings that one of the school system's two computer centers was not Y2K-compliant, according to several sources in the system.

The Crossland High School Computer Center stopped working on Jan. 1, forcing the technology department to inform principals at 52 secondary schools they would have to share the one system.

They devised a schedule: Each secondary school would log-on to the computer system only during specific time slots - 8 to 11 a.m. or 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. After 2 p.m., data clerks could log-on on a first-come, first-served basis. But when report cards were due several weeks ago, the schedule wreaked havoc.

One data entry operator said it took 40 minutes to change two grades on a report card, a task that took two minutes when both computer centers were operational.

Another scheduler said she had to turn away a parent who had requested a copy of her child's report card because it was not the scheduler's assigned time slot.

And although report cards were released on time, many clerks said they had to work 16 hours longer than expected to do it.

``Everybody knows about the problem, but no one is doing anything about it," one operator said.

Alberta Paul, one of four senior officials appointed this summer by Schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts, said ``Any time you take and add additional [users] on a single machine there is going to be some slowness."

Paul, head of the school system's technology services, said she has requested someone to make sure that schools are logging in during their appropriate time slots. ` `Our schools have been very cooperative in managing their access," she said. ``I think you may have spoken with someone who is disgruntled."

According to some sources in the technology division, the problem is much more significant than scheduling.

Prior to the failure of Crossland's computer center, 27 secondary schools logged onto the Crossland center, and 25 secondary schools logged onto the Eleanor Roosevelt High School computer center for unlimited amounts of time. The computer systems handle attendance, schedules, progress reports and report cards.

According to an internal memo sent to Metts this month by an employee in the technology division and obtained by The Journal last week, ``This problem could have been alleviated by spending approximately $300,000 prior to Jan. 1."

The letter said Paul was presented in September with a proposal for a new computer system that would have replaced both Crossland and Roosevelt computers.

The letter also stated the school system has known for some time about the looming problem with the system:``It has been public knowledge since 1996 that the Crossland Computer system would not be Y2K compliant.".

Asked when administrators became aware of the problem, Paul said, ``It is irrelevant at this point in time if someone was notified in 1996 or 1997; what is important is a solution has been provided."

The school system has obtained surplus computers from the county government, and it plans to shut down the two high school computer sites and consolidate them at the Sasscer Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, Paul said.

The computers have to be tested before they are put in place, but Paul said she expects the Sasscer computer center to be in place within the next six months.

The move will provide more control and checks of the system, she said.

``We are putting in structure. We have never had this level of structure and it will prove extremely useful. We are looking at better times, as it relates to fully resolving data access," she said in a phone interview Friday.

``As far as I am concerned, the problem has long been resolved." But some are skeptical.

In the memo, the technology staff member writes, ``This will not be as simple as it appears [The county computer system] is also not Y2K compliant in its current state The final cost of this move could prove to be quite expensive and easily range between $75,000 to $100,000. If it doesn't work we will be in the same situation as we are now."


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 15, 2000

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