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School officials express concern about State's student software decision


WISCONSIN DELLS, WI (WSAU) -  The real cost of throwing away your school’s student information software package is higher than Wisconsin officials want to admit. That’s according to many school districts attending a user’s conference hosted by Skyward.

Skyward’s Cliff King told the group in Wisconsin Dells Monday what to watch for. “Basically, what the DPI has done is they’ve taken into consideration the cost for the vendor, but they haven’t looked at what it was going to cost school districts in employee times to convert from one system to another, and I wanted to bring that to the forefront of everybody here.”

WSAU asked State Superintendent Tony Evers February 12th about the cost of converting schools to a single system, and he was confident the formula paying the districts around $29,000 over five years would be adequate. “When the state looked at this as being the amount of money needed, that includes money for conversion. That includes money for training of staff, so we believe there’s likely adequate resources to make that happen.”

King says several of the schools have done the math, and the state’s numbers don’t add up. “Stevens Point, they estimated about 447 thousand dollars, Eau Claire estimated about 487 thousand, Burlington estimated about 150 thousand.”

One of those schools is Wisconsin Rapids, where Cheri Wallach works with student records. She says, “We have a tight budget the way it is, and we have to cut expenses for next year, and to think that we would have to come up with this money because it’s an unfunded mandate more-or-less would really hurt our district.” Wallach adds, “We’ve estimated it would cost us about a quarter of a million dollars to convert, and we would get about 20 thousand dollars for that, so there would be a lot of money coming out of our pockets and the taxpayer pockets.” In addition, Wallach says their annual license fees would be more than they are now.

It’s not just the money, it’s the time. Jodi Tamminga from Twin Lakes only deals with 425 total students, but she says they have to meet the same state reporting guidelines as everyone else. “When I first came to Twin Lakes, we weren’t on grade books. We didn’t use any of the modules for state reporting. I was sent to the user group seminars, and just in the ISIS reporting alone I used to make about 45 hundred entries. Now I make maybe 50 adjustments.” Tamminga says giving up on a working program that automates many required tasks is going to cost Twin Lakes money in labor. “It’s going to set me back. It’s going to set my district back, and we’re going to lose money not only through productivity and labor, it’s going to be an adjustment for everybody.”

The State of Wisconsin wants a single software package, and they decided February 1st to select Infinite Campus. About 10% of Wisconsin schools now use Infinite Campus. Around 50% of Wisconsin schools use Skyward student information software. Another 40% are using a variety of other vendors. Skyward’s Cliff King says that’s ok, because every district, the state, and the taxpayers would be better off with a multiple vendor system that let’s schools choose what works best for them. “Once they see the reality of what this means to their district, they’re going to stand up and take attention that on a multi-vendor system will be the way to go. It will save 60% of the schools from having to do anything.”

The challenge for Skyward and it’s school district clients is battling a State of Wisconsin procurement law that now requires a single vendor system. Many of the 700 people attending the Skyward user’s conference in Wisconsin Dells Monday are hoping their provider wins the appeal filed with the Department of Public Instruction February 15th. State Superintendent Dr. Tony Evers and Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch both support a single vendor system.

Representative Katrina Shankland and Senator Julie Lassa have introduced a bill to change it back to a multi-vendor open market procurement system, but the bill is buried in Assembly and Senate committees.

Single source vendors for services have not always worked well in Wisconsin, including the Travelgate scandal involving Adelman Travel in 2006, and there have been numerous complaints after the Department of Health and Family Services handed Medicaid transportation over to Logisticare in 2011. Both involved complaints about cost, customer service, and accountability issues.

King is hopeful that school boards, parents, and other taxpayers around Wisconsin put pressure on the Legislature to let them choose what system to use and how to save money.

King says their 40 dollar per student conservative estimate was significantly less than what the actual cost estimate is. That means Skyward client schools will be shelling out around 13.9 million dollars to change systems, and the 90% of Wisconsin districts not already on Infinite Campus will be paying in excess of 28 million dollars. If Wisconsin is setting aside around $29,000 for conversion for each of the 426 districts, that’s 12.3 million dollars... a shortage of over 15.6 million dollars just in conversion costs.