Sunday, February 17, 2008
APS System Called 'Almost Unusable'
By Zsombor Peter
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
Carolyn Hudson loves technology.
But for the Eisenhower Elementary School secretary, the Albuquerque school district's latest student tracking system has been nothing short of a "nightmare."
"At best, it is a cumbersome, (non)-user friendly system," she said. "At worst, when an already slow system is bogged down with all the schools doing online testing, it is almost unusable."
Albuquerque Public Schools purchased SchoolMax in 2002 to keep better track of student data everything from test scores to medical information.
But, since then, it has cost millions more than projected; employees say it's still slower than the system it replaced; and the company that designed it might not be interested in supporting it much longer.
Maximus, the Virginia-based company that designed SchoolMax, did not return several messages from the Journal seeking comment.
In 2004, APS projected spending $16 million to get the system fully running and to purchase all necessary hardware and software, Technology Director Tom Ryan said. To date, the district has spent $24 million, according to APS records.
Ryan said the latest figure includes maintenance, which wasn't in the original projection because upkeep is budgeted separately. But even without maintenance, SchoolMax has cost APS $23 million $7 million more than projected.
Ryan attributes most of the extra money to project delays and extra training.
Whenever a new system is rolled out, "the hardest part is the human capital, to teach (people) how to do something in a different way," he said.
Ryan suspects cost pressures led the district to underestimate training demands.
Also, the ongoing demands of the separate Lawson computer system forced APS at one point to put a temporary hold on installing SchoolMax, Ryan added. That meant keeping the old system around longer, which meant paying for an extended contract.
Between Lawson and SchoolMax, he said, "there was just too much to bite off at one time."
Hudson gets the feeling APS is still catching up.
She is on SchoolMax daily, inputting student information and making sure teachers do the same, and then pulling reports together from the data. Though SchoolMax has gotten better over the months, she said, it's still slower than the old system and it still kicks her off when there's heavy network traffic.
Ryan said APS is adding more server capacity.
It is also working to increase the system's speed by rewiring buildings to increase capacity of fiber optic lines and redesigning computer networks, said Rose-Ann McKernan, director of research, development and accountability.
"We're pursuing every root cause and addressing each one," she said.
But all that still won't address Hudson's biggest criticism.
"My main problem with SchoolMax is it's so cumbersome," she said."
Hudson appreciates the new reports she can generate, but data that took her three screens to input now take six or seven, and that means more time.
McKernan said it's all part of working with a system that can do more. She suspects most employees will come to like it as they get used to it.
But then there's the matter of how much longer the system will be good for. Maximus has announced plans to roll out a new version of SchoolMax soon, McKernan confirmed, "but they have assured us they will continue to support our system."
Ryan said the company has promised two more years of support, though he has nothing in writing.