Idaho spent $61 million on a failing school management system

BOISE — Idaho wasted $61 million on a statewide education management system for schools that former public schools superintendent Tom Luna kept pushing despite warnings it would would not work, according to a new state performance assessment.

Tim Corder, special assistant to New Public Schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, told lawmakers on Tuesday that the state’s performance evaluation report was accurate.

“We are truly a changed administration,” Corder told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee. “It wasn’t us. It was the previous administration. … Superintendent Ybarra didn’t create this problem, but Superintendent Ybarra is going to fix this problem.

The Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations report showed Idaho spent $61 million trying to implement Schoolnet statewide, including a $21 million grant from the Foundation. JA & Kathryn Albertson and over $40 million in state tax funds.

Schoolnet tracks student grades, attendance, test scores and curriculum and is available to teachers, parents and schools to track student learning. Many districts have never used the system and only a small number still use it.

The state originally committed $77 million for the project, including the grant, as part of Luna’s Students Come First school reform initiative. Voters in Idaho rejected student-first laws in a 2012 referendum. In addition to the statewide education management system, the push called for a computer laptop for every high school student in Idaho, a new emphasis on online learning, the elimination of contractual protections for teachers, and the shifting of resources to cover new expenses without increasing school funding.

“Mismanagement, bad decisions and poor functionality of the system have compounded and prevented the achievement of the goals of a statewide education management system,” Rakesh Mohan told lawmakers. , director of the Legislative Assembly’s Office of Performance Evaluations.

Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, called it “sickening results, if you ask me.” “You see there’s $61 million, you think, wow, that would have done a lot for the roads,” Batt said.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, called the report “discouraging.”

“It seems like every year we find out someone has a great idea and they don’t check it out,” Rusche said. “And then, of course, we claim poverty on why we can’t support the teachers or the other services.”

Rusche proposed legislation this year to create a new office of inspector general for Idaho, but the bill was not heard.

“We should demand more accountability,” Rusche said. “I haven’t seen that from the executive, so far, so maybe we should.”

Corder said one of Ybarra’s top priorities, already approved by legislative budget drafters, is adding someone to oversee contracts at the state Department of Education; he said the new administration was surprised to find no one had that role, despite the department overseeing some 1,500 contracts.

He noted how the department has taken action to replace the Idaho Education Network’s defunct statewide contract by helping individual districts select and contract with their own top vendors. debit.

“We want to leave you with the message that you can trust the state Department of Education,” Corder said. “You can trust this administration – we can count, we can, and we can calculate, and we can spell. And we can do all the other things you ask us to do.

Luna signed two contracts totaling $10.9 million in 2010 and 2011 with NCS Pearson Inc. for Schoolnet, as well as a series of other smaller contracts under the project. Millions more have been spent directly, including on professional development and technology. Pearson was one of three suppliers named finalists for the contract after a request for information issued in January 2010.

“Problems with the project began long before a system vendor was selected, were rooted in decisions made by the department and, importantly, were mostly preventable,” the report states.

Pete Koehler, deputy chief superintendent of Ybarra and former superintendent of the Nampa School District, said Schoolnet was never meant to be a statewide system — it was meant to work at the state level. of the school district. The report found that the statewide Schoolnet system was “overambitious given the capabilities of the product it chose to use.”

Jeremy S. McLain