LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school district officials have talked for nearly five years about how they would like to upgrade their 1990s-era business computer systems to meet their 21st century needs.
On Tuesday, the School Board obliged.
In one of the biggest single non-construction purchases the district has undertaken, the board approved an $8.8 million contract with Texas-based Tyler Technologies for new software and its implementation.
Still pending is another $5.2 million for maintenance, disaster recovery and system administration.
"The computer system that we are currently using, you could compare it to a Model T Ford when we are trying to compete in a NASCAR world," project manager Ann Altman said. "What our employees have to work with is very difficult."
Changes will come first to the district's financial operations, followed by human relations, work orders and finally staff development. Implementation will begin in January and run into 2014.
"It's a major undertaking," said School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley, who pulled the nearly 500-page contract off the consent agenda, where it was sandwiched between routine purchase orders for eggs and paper. "At the end of the day, it's going to help our district leap light-years forward in terms of how we communicate."
Conversations about improving the systems began in early 2007. Since then, the board has set aside a portion of its capital projects budget annually to cover the costs, as a team of up to 12 district staffers have researched available options and the best way to implement them.
Several other Florida school districts have upgraded their technology, sometimes with unintended results. One of the biggest problems has been in ensuring that all employees are properly paid when the switch takes effect.
"That is the biggest concern," Altman said. "We have a good plan in place."
As departments share similar software, they will be able to generate reports and share data more easily, making for a more efficient operation, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
"Our computers from one department to the next do not talk to one another," she said, noting that many times a department will have to print a report and deliver it to another that will have to upload it again. "If we had the appropriate equipment it would only be to hit a button. … We will be able to run like a business."
The district is not planning to change its student data systems during this transition.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.