LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A WINK News Call for Action investigation into overtime in the Lee County School District uncovers a computer program meant to save you money is actually costing you millions in overtime.
The district approved the $32 million project to get the "PeopleSoft" system three years ago, but it finally went completely online this year. "PeopleSoft" was meant to streamline all of the district's documents. Because of the delays and big price tag, one school board member is asking for a refund.
"If it's really not working correctly and we can not get it tweaked right, then we need a refund of some type. We can put that money back in the district and find a program that is going to work efficiently," said Don Armstrong.
The program was supposed to streamline all of the districts records, from payroll to grades to bus maintenance records; but a Call for Action investigation uncovered the program was much more difficult to install than the district anticipated.
Joe Donzelli, spokesman for the district, told WINK news the deficiencies with the previous computer system created challenges transitioning to a new system. "When you take a computer system, computer software that was literally being held together with duct tape, it was 30 years old, we bought it in the 70's used from the county. At the time it was being used it just had outlived its usefulness," said Donzelli.
We found the reason it cost so much is because the district approved dozens of school district employees for overtime to get the project off the ground. For instance, we found one district employee in the transportation department racked up 1,293 hours of overtime, costing you an additional $34,504.40 on top of her base salary in one school year.
We went through her time cards and found her coming in most days at 4:00am, including weekends. Over a three month period, she only took off Thanksgiving, Christmas and one other day. Then we asked the school district if that made sense.
"Well that makes sense if you want to get the project done, and the project done right," school district spokesman, Joe Donzelli responded.
We then asked Mr. Donzelli if that person was the one actually crafting the program.
"No. She worked with the programmers," said Donzelli. "See, when you buy a software program it doesn't come ready to go. You need to craft it to fit our needs. When you talking about ordering supplies, inventory of supplies, tracking overtime hours, payroll, all of the things that are unique to different aspects of the district, there is a ton of customization that went into this system."
"That seems bizarre to me. You're talking about a school district-- if they have sold this product to a school district before, why there would be a need to be so much change?" asked Chief Investigator, Melissa Yeager.
"If you talk to the Oracle/PeopleSoft people they will tell you every school district is different. All the needs vary from district to district and from state to state," responded Donzelli.
The district says it paid overtime instead of hiring someone to assist her, saving taxpayers money on benefits. But a recent transportation department audit criticized the district for that decision.
The audit said the district should have hired an IT person to do this job to save money by speeding up the implementation of the project, or required the vendor to provide someone to do that job.
School board member Don Armstrong agrees.
"I expect a lot more bang for my buck," he told us.
Armstrong still thinks the district should go back to the vendor and ask for a refund.
"If we are having that many issues with this program, get it up and running correctly-- mind you this program was started in 2008. So, it's been well over 2 years now, I'm not really enthused by it, knowing that we still have problems with it," stated Armstrong.
The district told us they feel the money was well spent to update all of the school district's data. They point out the system is fully functional now and working well.