Wash. schools spell savings: ERP

System components

The commercial elements of Washington's new enterprise resource planning system include:

  • ERP software: Point and Click School Management System from Skyward Inc.

  • Database: Enterprise database from Progress Software Corp. of Nashua, N.H., running IBM AIX 3.3

  • Delivery to school administrative staff: Metaframe XP Presentation Server from Citrix Systems Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., running Microsoft Windows 2000

  • Delivery to teachers and families: Microsoft Internet Information Services server and Progress Software's WebSpeed Transaction Server and AppServer

Cynthia Nelson of the Edmonds School District sees many new uses for the system.

Public school systems throughout Washington are adopting a statewide enterprise resource planning system that they say saves tens of millions of dollars annually in administrative expenses.

The Washington School Information Processing Cooperative, a public-sector software development and application service provider, is rolling out the ERP system for elementary, middle and high schools. WSPIC provides services to 279 school districts'94 percent of the state's districts'in nine Educational Service Districts, on a fee-for-service basis.

'We are pretty proud of the fact that we are a frugal provider of services to school districts,' said WSIPC chief executive officer Jeffrey A. Conklin.

A study by Washington's State Superintendent of Public Instruction revealed that districts belonging to WSIPC pay about $60 per pupil for data processing, while nonmember districts pay $125 per pupil. Across the cooperative's membership, school districts saved a total of more than $46 million in the 2001-2002 school year.

The cooperative is deploying the WSIPC Enhanced Skyward Point and Click School Management System across the state. WESPaC replaces a green-screen system using OpenVMS on a Hewlett-Packard Alpha platform that schools have used since the 1980s.

The new system manages student information, financial data and human resources functions. It provides data tailored to school administrators, teachers and parents.

State officials began planning to replace the VMS system in September 2000 and in May 2001 signed a contract with Skyward Inc. of Stevens Point, Wis., to use the company's Point and Click School Management System package. The agreement allowed WSIPC to customize the application by adding features.

After modifying the software, the cooperative tested WESPaC at the Monroe public schools in February 2002, then deployed the system to 11 charter districts that August.

The cooperative now is rolling out WESPaC to the remaining districts at a rate of about two to three each week, Conklin said. WISPC plans to complete the deployment next June.

The cooperative paid $5.4 million for software licensing, about $4 million for new hardware and about $16 million in staff costs for WESPaC. Continuing software and hardware maintenance costs will run about $1.4 million annually.

Cynthia Nelson, technology director for the Edmonds School District in Lynwood, said, 'I think a statewide cooperative is a very cost-effective way for school districts with limited dollars to provide computing functions so more dollars can be spent on instructional tools versus administrative tools.'

New ways

Nelson said that in the first few months of using WESPac, 'You are having people adjust to a different way of doing tasks. We had used the old student information system for about 20 years.'

The WESPaC rollout process met a few bumps as officials encountered a wide variety of equipment in the schools, some of which was badly obsolete. 'The districts are challenged,' Conklin said. 'A lot of them are making do with fairly antiquated workstations.'

In coming years, the cooperative plans to expand the service, as federal policies such as No Child Left Behind and national standards increasingly call for data-driven decision making, he said.

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