The Fort Worth Independent School District (ISD) uncovered a very costly mistake, literally. They’ve been receiving overpayments from the state since 2010 and now will have to pay back somewhere between $37 million and $39 million dollars.
It’s an error that was discovered through an internal investigation of a computer software program that had been miscalculating the average daily attendance (ADA) of a select student population for four years, right through the 2013-14 school year, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In fact, the software development malfunction was found in how the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) measured data for Fort Worth ISD starting in the 2010-11 school year and was a self-perpetuating error, according to a school district press release.
The tracker miscalculated ADA for students in bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL), Gifted & Talented, and Special Education programs. ADA is part of the not easily understood education funding formula in all states where factors are weighted in to determine how public schools receive state funds garnered, in great part, through taxpayer dollars.
For example, the Texas Association of School Business Officials reported in 2011, the approximate ADA for a regular student present in a classroom was about $30 per day and a special education student was $69 per day.
Fort Worth ISD intends to reimburse the state with money it holds in reserves, or a fund balance, which is where the overpayments from thestate were sent in the first place, according to the Star-Telegram article. The district is in good shape; however, as officials indicated they will still have an estimated $102 million in reserve, after repayment, according to the release.
Fort Worth ISD also indicated that the district is working closely with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) DeputyCommissioner of Finance to follow agency protocol in repaying the state.
District Interim Superintendent Dr. Patricia Linares was first informed of the error on July 23 and “took immediate steps to determine the impact on the school district and to initiate a corrective action plan.” She notified the TEA immediately. The school board was told of the situation on July 30.
Linares told the Star-Telegram, “We have to return the money,” adding, “We will do that.”
The glitch in question was computer coding in software purchased from Plano-based Tyler Technologies.
“Tyler Technologies has not been notified by the Fort Worth ISD of any software development issues,” the company wrote in a statement to the Star-Telegram. “As a standard practice, Tyler Technologies is fully supportive of our clients and we resolve issues directly with them. If the school district contacts us, we will work to address any questions they might have regarding the use of our software.”
Unfortunately, coding errors happen and do so under a variety of circumstances. On May 30, Breitbart Texas reported on Midland ISD and corrections that had to be made to mistakes in the PEIMS reporting system that called into question whether their school year statistics reflected hard work done in the district to raise attendance and achievement or grade inflation.
Midland ISD’s Executive Director of Accountability and Information Management Services told Breitbart Texas, at the time, that these errors that were partially the result of faulty human data input. Fortunately, the district sorted it out and once properly coded, no evidence of gradeinflation surfaced. Granted, this instance was costly but not quite in the same way as Fort Worth ISD where they had been plagued with technologyissues since signing on with vendor Tyler Technologies in 2007, the Star-Telegram article stated.
Linares also told the news outlet that the reimbursement would not affect a planned three-percent pay increase for district employees already approved by the Board.
“All of our educational opportunities that we have for our children will continue,” she said, emphasizing that the PEIMS reporting glitch has not interfered with students’ educations. “We will continue to provide them with the best educational opportunities available to them.”
CBS-11, the DFW affiliate, reported that Fort Worth Board of Education President Norman Robbins commented, “Not only is this situation disappointing but it is completely unacceptable but we are very appreciative of the staff for finding this error this month and ensuring corrections are made to next year’s budget. We have charged the interim superintendent with showing us how such issues will be prevented in the future.”
PEIMS, the statewide reporting system, allows school districts to provide data on district organization, finances, staff, and students to the TEA, which determines the specific information that districts must provide and the format that must be used when reporting the data. That data is collected by the TEA four times each year, and different requirements apply to each submissions.
Follow Merrill Hope, an original member of the Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.