Qualicum school board is seeking payback for time wasted on new system

At issue is the new MyEducationBC student information software program

Teachers and support staff throughout School District 69 have spent valuable time through the first three months of school dealing with shortcomings of B.C.’s new online student information system, school officials said.

And now the SD69 Board of Trustees wants some payback.

During their regular meeting last week at the board office in Parksville, trustees unanimously approved a motion that would urge the Ministry of Education to seek a “resolution with compensation” from the software’s developer and use that compensation to “address unanticipated costs” to school districts.

“These people got $95 million of our taxpayers’ money, and the fact is they handed us a diesel Volkswagen computer program that isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do,” trustee Barry Kurland said during last month’s meeting, when he sought direction to draft the motion. “It raises the question, ‘What are they going to do about it?’”

At issue is the new MyEducationBC student information software program, contracted by the Ministry of Education from Fujitsu Consulting (Canada). The program, which replaces the BCeSIS software, is being introduced to school districts across the province in a staggered rollout.

Immediately upon its implementation in Parksville Qualicum this September, however, MyEducationBC proved all but unusable as teachers, support staff and building administrators reported inability to access the system, dropped or missing information and other snags.

When fixes promised in September failed to materialize well into October, school district officials from across the region met with Ministry of Education officials to discuss the problems, even as the ministry prepared to roll out MyEducationBC in other districts.

“I think the one thing that brings hope to me is that at that meeting, we had the ministry standing at the front of the room, and the rest of the room we had superintendents, assistant superintendents, board chairs, and financial folks from around the province standing shoulder-to-shoulder,” superintendent Rollie Koop said. “They were all saying this is not working and it’s having a huge impact on both operations and morale in our districts.

“And the ministry didn’t run from it. They’re not defending the action of the vendor and in fact are being very forceful about their dissatisfaction with what’s happened”

Koop, assistant superintendent Susan Wilson and SD69 board chair Eve Flynn were all assured by ministry officials that the government would hold Fujitsu to account for failing to deliver under the terms of the $95 million contract. But that wasn’t good enough for Kurland, who asked the board to enlist the help of the Vancouver Island School Trustees Association (VISTA) and the B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA) in pressing the ministry to make Fujitsu pay.

“The various boards around the province should be using BCSTA as our voice,” said Kurland, who help draft the motion to be forwarded to VISTA in its meeting late last week. “It’s not enough to say the ministry understands the problems and we go, ‘OK, we’ll let the ministry do it.’

“These people are our employees, and we have wellness programs because of the stress that people feel. So it comes back, ultimately, to the child, the learner in the classroom, and their families.”

At one point, Kurland said the least Fujitsu could do is come and train local teachers and support staff the new system on its own dime. But Wilson responded education was not the issue.

“It’s not about the training of our teachers at this point,” she said. “It’s that the system’s demand on it was too great and they couldn’t keep up. The ministry representatives said why (Fujitsu) couldn’t have known that was coming was beyond their comprehension.

And yet, after acknowledging Fujitsu’s shortcomings to SD69 officials in that October meeting, the Ministry of Education seemed to sing a different tune just a week later, when it announced another 73,000 B.C. students were being entered into the MyEducationBC system in school districts on the Lower Mainland. With that announcement, a ministry press release stated, “This planned system update is not performance related. Since hardware upgrades were completed after technical issues early in the school year, MyEducationBC has been performing well.”

“If the system was working so well, then why the need for the motion the board is voting on tonight … about seeking compensation for MyEdBC’s failure to meet performance requirements?” Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association president Norberta Heinrichs asked. “The one thing MyEdBC has done well is, it’s done a superlative job at frustrating teachers by increasing their workload, by ignoring teachers’ timelines to write reports with their downtime, by creating systemic procedures that are not always intuitive or timely and by disregarding locally developed software programs that could interface with the system.”

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