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N.C. to seek discount from owner of problematic school computer system

By T. Keung Hui
khui@newsobserver.com

State education officials are trying to get credit with the company whose computer system has drawn complaints from school districts about problems such as inaccurate student transcripts.

North Carolina is paying $7.1 million a year to Pearson Inc. for use of the PowerSchool student information system that was implemented statewide this school year.

Philip Price, chief financial officer for the state Department of Public Instruction, said Wednesday that state officials will try to get credit from Pearson that they can use to reduce costs.

Eric Moore, a fiscal analyst at DPI, said credits usually represent discounts on payments. Price said he didn’t know how much DPI might get from Pearson. But Brandon Pinette, a spokesman for Pearson, said the company is willing to make up for the times when the system was down.

“We apologize for any inconvenience these incidents caused and are working with state education officials to determine the proper amount of service credits,” Pinette said in a written statement. “Pearson overall maintains a very high level of service and works very hard to ensure PowerSchool is available.”

Until this school year, North Carolina’s public schools used the NC WISE system to manage student data. Price said that people who are complaining now forget how much they didn’t like NC WISE.

In 2010, Pearson bought NC WISE and phased it out. The state took Pearson up on the offer to transition to PowerSchool in one year instead of over two years.

Price said the state paid $3.6 million in transition costs this school year. He said it would have cost an additional $2.1 million to wait another year.

In retrospect, Price said, the state could have provided more training to school systems on using PowerSchool.

Transcript issue

Since the start of the school year, school districts have reported issues such as inaccurate athletic eligibility records and crashes when teachers enter grades into the computer system.

But one of the most worrisome issues has been with transcripts. School districts such as Wake County provided high school seniors with letters explaining to colleges and universities that school systems couldn’t provide an updated transcript with grade point average and class rank because of PowerSchool issues.

Price said the state has been working hard with Pearson to resolve the transcript issues. For instance, Johnston County school officials said Wednesday they can now print accurate transcripts after not having been able to do so as late as last week.

For districts such as Wake whose transcript issues are caused by PowerSchool not calculating an updated mid-year GPA for students taking yearlong courses, Price said the state and Pearson are working on a fix.

Price said he understands the frustrations that schools are having. System maintenance in March should catch more of the issues, he added.

“Once things settle in, we’re going to be in a much better place than we were in NC WISE, which took 10 years to implement,” he said.

Hui: 919-829-4534
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