Questions over pricey software and travel expenses amid RPS deficit

Posted at 12:13 AM, Oct 26, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-26 00:22:27-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—Last year Richmond Public Schools bought pricey software that has still not been implemented, though other counties had the same software up and running within two months--and didn't fly out of town for software training.

Former Richmond School Board member Carol Wolf is reacting to the results of CBS 6 investigation into a Richmond Public School software purchase and training trip.

"As a school board member if I had found out about this, I would be raising hell," said Wolf.

Wolf believes it was careless spending at a time when RPS should be watching every dime.

"That's amazing, that's a waste and I hope our parents and our teachers would be upset with that," she said.

Soon after the purchase and the trip school leaders would have public debates about their financial crisis, trying to solve a $24 million dollar deficit that resulted in layoffs and furloughs.

"The highest number of layoffs came out of our department," said former RPS Plant Services employee John Reid.

His former department is also at the center of our story.  Reid was laid off in July from the school maintenance department, Plant Services.

"None of this surprises me," said Reid.

In October of 2011, the RPS Plant Services Department, who handle repairs and upkeep of Richmond school buildings, bought a software subscription. The product helps get building repairs fixed faster and networks communications and expenditures more efficiently.

The system is designed so that maintenance staff will use portable technology, in Richmond’s case iPads.

The name of the product is School Dude and RPS paid $34,000 for their subscription.

But for the next five months the software was not put online for staff to use.  In March of 2012, the department sent nine maintenance employees to a training conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to learn how to use School Dude.

While most employees took city cars to the training, one employee billed the school division $567.00 for a round trip plane flight. He arrived a full day after the conference had started.

For those who attended, their days consisted of several hours of training classes each day. Everyone from the department director to the lead equipment operator took part in it and stayed in ocean front condos where the training was being held.

The group also took a team outing during the trip to a nearby Brazilian Steakhouse. The cost of the meal was about $450.00.

Several more months went by and the RPS School Dude subscription expired. So, despite a $34,000 dollar purchase and a $7,500 dollar training trip, School Dude has never been used. We took our findings to school leaders.

“I don't know when the software was set to be implemented,” said Maurice Henderson, Vice Chair of the Richmond School Board, ”what I thought we were doing was getting ready to procure it.”.

Most school board members we spoke with outside a regularly scheduled school board meeting weren’t clear on how School Dude was being used or the money spent on training.

“If the person was going to need to use it, I assume that they would need to be trained,” said board member Norma Murdoch-Kitt.

Several members declined to speak to us altogether. Superintendent Yvonne Brandon pointed us to the Andy Hawkins, Chief Operating Officer of RPS. We asked him about the software that expired several months ago.

"No we're implementing the system, it's a huge system to have to deal with," said Hawkins.

Hawkins admits that School Dude is not up and running, that the subscription expired and that the iPads for the product haven’t been purchased yet. Hawkins claimed that for the past year RPS has been collecting and uploading information about its buildings in to the School Dude system, preparing it for use on January 1, 2013.

We asked Hawkins if a year had been wasted by paying for the subscription but not having it utilized by employees.

“One of the things you're not listening to me about is that over the past year we've been entering data in to the system," Hawkins responded.

Hawkins claimed no time has been wasted. This is simply how long the process takes. He definitively told us that the iPads would be purchased in coming weeks and the system would be in use at the start of the new year.  But for Henrico, the process was finished much faster.

"It took us about 90 days to implement the software," said Al Ciarochi, Henrico County Director of Operations.

It was even faster for Chesterfield County. They were up and running in less than 30 days. And according to the School Dude website, the company has a 60 day money back guarantee because they claim that most of their clients are up and running within 30 days of their purchase, having more than enough time to see if the product is a fit.

Additionally Henrico and Chesterfield sent no one out of state for training.  They used in house training provided by the company as part of every subscription. They also used existing school laptops to host the product instead of purchasing new iPads.

"I liken it to buying season tickets to a baseball team and only going to five games-- you don’t really get your money’s worth,” said Ciarochi.

But still Richmond defends their decisions. They deny that there has been any delay in implementation and this timeline is how they intended it to happen. However, in a news release sent out just hours before our story aired, RPS adjusted that time line. It shows that RPS will begin their implementation in February of 2013 and plan to have it completely implemented by June of 2013.

READ: PDF of School Dude timeline cost savings supplement

The release claims the purchase will save the district money over the next several years and again reiterates that the process can take up to two years to complete.

We spoke to Lee Prevost, President of School Dude by phone Thursday night. Prevost admitted that a two-year implementation was an abnormal length of time for software implementation. He explained that implementation times can vary based on the size of the school district and the amount of services purchased as part of the product.

He also referenced difficult budget times for the district as a possibility for their implementation times.  However, Prevost defends the statement on his own website, which claims most clients have implemented the product within 30 days.

“While the questions about why they aren’t realizing results when others have realized them much faster are valid, I hope the fact that the district is trying to improve processes, efficiencies, transparency, accountability does not go unreported,” said Prevost.

 READ: School Dude explanation: Implements Real-Time Online Management System for Facility Needs, says RPS