Board renews controversial schools’ data system contract

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 12:30am

A Metro Schools’ student data system, blamed in part for attendance record troubles and creating barriers to using student academic data for instruction improvement, was renewed through 2011 by the Board of Education on Tuesday.

Chancery SMS has come under both direct and indirect political fire from the state Department of Education, the Mayor’s Office, Metro Police, and teachers union the Metro Nashville Education Association.

That criticism is in addition to complaint from school staff members over the time-consuming technology headaches that they say the system causes.

Nonetheless, board members approved a school district recommendation — with some reservation — to ink a multi-year contract with Chancery.

While Director of Schools Jesse Register had recommended that MNPS “look deeply” at the software and market before inking the contract, Lance Lott, MNPS’ technology officer told board members that the district has determined the Chancery system, a product of Pearson Education Inc., was solid, and still a better option than competitors.

Lott suggested that many of the problems have stemmed from Metro’s use — or misuse — of Chancery.

“Our use of the system, training, and networks need improvement,” he said.

Register, whose previous school district utilized a Chancery competitor, told board members too that the costs associated with changing to a new data system would outweigh the benefits. The district would serve its interests better by learning to more efficiently use what it already has.

“What we tend to lose site of is how complex, how complicated it is to make a change,” Register said. “It’s just not worth it.”

The contract stipulates the price of $31,442 for the first year of the contract, and $207,000 for each subsequent year. All Metro contracts include a provision stating that the contract can be terminated with 30 days notice.

School board members approved the district’s recommendation, but had questions about changes administrators are making in utilizing the software.

Board member Karen Johnson asked about processes for incorporating staff input in Chancery utilization, and board member Steve Glover asked whether the Tennessee Department of Education was on board with sticking with Chancery.

“It is with great reservation that I support the renewal of the contract,” Antioch board member Johnson told Lott. “We don’t have a choice, based on the [information] you presented today.”

Lott said there were delays in getting the contract signed, due in part to price negotiations compensating for “poor performance” in the contract’s first two years.

Though the contract has not been signed, the district has a license in place authorizing program use, he said.


5 Comments on this post:

By: artsmart on 6/24/09 at 6:31

Either the system works or it doesn't. If you can't figure it out by now, maybe a new head of technology is needed. If the problem is an issue with people not using it, then once again time for some people go and the others will take notice. This is really a clear problem but it is always not being honest because someone has their feelings hurt., and we would never want to do that.

By: govskeptic on 6/24/09 at 6:39

Does every city in the nation have the same problem with computer contracts that this city and state seems to have. It's never ending that these systems cost us millions and they never seem to work as sold here. Whether it's a State payroll, metro police or school system. Is it lack of training, poor purchasing, pie in the sky sales tactics? Whatever, there is certainly a costly-ongoing problem.

By: dogmrb on 6/24/09 at 10:29

Chancery is Lanse Lott's baby so as long as he's in that position, MNPS will continue to struggle with Chancery. Perfect example of "sunk cost" decision making.

By: Cowboy84 on 6/24/09 at 6:53

It's the users not the program.

By: howelln on 6/28/09 at 3:37

I think a big problem is that the server is not large enough to handle the load. Most of the software is the same, but they all require monstrous servers to handle the load of info.