Changing vendors could be costly for BASD
By Jennifer Eisenbart
After a long, drawn-out process that saw bidding restarted because of questions over fairness, the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced Feb. 1 that it had chosen Infinite Campus for the statewide school student data system.
That news will require a change in Burlington – and likely in other communities as well that use Skyward, a competing company based in Stevens Point that many districts in the state already use.
Burlington Area School District uses Skyward and could be facing a costly change. Skyward has appealed the decision, and took out a full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding the selection process.
According to a press release on Skyward’s website, it currently serves as the student data system for 50 percent of the districts in the state. According to information from a staff member in Union Grove, Infinite Campus serves only 10 percent.
“This protest is within standard practice for a decision of this magnitude, especially considering the negative impact it will have on Wisconsin school districts, taxpayers, and job growth across Wisconsin,” Skyward said in its press release. “Based on an analysis of the long-term expenses, Skyward is less expensive and will result in $2.6 million savings annually.
“We are confident that Skyward provides the greatest return for Wisconsin taxpayers compared to the selected, Minnesota-based vendor.
Additionally, Skyward said in the statement that consideration of costs to individual districts was not considered in the evaluation process.
In the past week, the battle has heated up even further. state Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) called the selection process flawed, and pointed to data that Skyward had presented in its defense.
“Scores awarded to the Minnesota company exceeded the maximums allowed by the evaluation tools, not once or twice, but 73 times,” Lassa said in a press release. “An evaluator deemed to be favorable to Skyward was removed from the evaluation committee, despite an independent observer finding no bias on the evaluator’s part.”
Meanwhile, Stephanie Marquis of the Wisconsin Department of Administration defended the selection process, and said Act 32 in 2011 was adopted to create a single statewide data warehouse.
“At its core, this initiative was undertaken to reduce cost, improve efficiency, ensure equity across districts, improve data access and security, and extend student information systems features beyond what many districts have today,” Marquis said in a letter.
However, for districts like Burlington, the change essentially amounts to another unfunded mandate by the state.
“We’ll have all the training costs, purchasing … and any hardware costs,” said BASD Superintendent Peter Smet. “We haven’t seen that level of detail regarding the transition yet.
“It’s a pretty complex system that may take several days to weeks to learn,” Smet said. “There may be a lot of people who need a lot of training.”
Skyward has been used by the district for a number of years to address everything from attendance to grading to scheduling, food service and student demographic data.
In addition, students and parents use the system, and any retraining will also have to address that portion of the population.
BASD Director of Technology Scott Christensen got an estimate last week of what it would cost to purchase Skyward new now. Assuming the costs are comparable, the district could be looking at spending nearly $150,000 – $69,000 in training costs and $80,000 in data conversion.
However, not all the reactions have been negative.
“There are individuals who have really looked at these different programs,” said Cooper School Principal Kris Anderson. “I think we have to trust that they’re looking out for what’s best for the school districts.
“I think these individuals are more qualified to make that assessment,” she added. “Are we comfortable with Skyward? Of course we are.
“Change is difficult, but it can also be a wonderful thing as well.”
Anderson also thought it was important for the state to have only one system. Since students transition from school to school, a statewide system would make it possible to track everyone.
BASD Assistant Superintendent Connie Zinnen was concerned about the problem at hand for her district.
“I don’t know anything about the one selected,” she said. “My concern is that we have a good system that we’ve trained people on and are comfortable with.
“The challenges of moving to a different system … do create some challenges for us,” Zinnen added.