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Saanich school district scraps $1.5-million student-tracking system

The Saanich school district is scrapping its $1.5-million openStudent records system just months before it was set to launch.
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The Saanich school district is scrapping its $1.5-million openStudent records system just months before it was set to launch.

The board will lay off all nine computer programmers and a project manager at the end of April and terminate the contract of a second team leader.

Board chairman Wayne Hunter said trustees made the decision after learning from the Ministry of Education that any new system would have to integrate with the B.C. Services Card, the province’s new multi-purpose identification card.

The district has already invested $1.5 million in capital money in openStudent and figured it needed a further $1.7 million to finish the project. The service-card requirement, however, added at least another $1 million to the final price tag.

“We can’t go there,” Hunter said. “We have other responsibilities.”

The district will try to find other investors and possibly sell openStudent to a jurisdiction outside B.C. in an effort to recoup its money.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” Hunter said. “These are B.C. employees, these are our openStudent employees. This is money that would have stayed in the province. This is money that the province paid for development.

“Quite frankly, I think the previous people in the ministry never gave [openStudent] a look, never gave it a consideration.”

Education Minister Peter Fassbender took exception to Saanich laying the blame on the government. “I’m more than a little bit upset, because there’s a lot of misrepresentation in that as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The suggestion that we led them astray and they really didn’t have an opportunity is absolutely incorrect.”

His ministry said Saanich should have known all along that any system would have to integrate with the B.C. Services Card. The requirement was included in the request for proposals, issued in December 2012, to replace the province’s troubled B.C. Enterprise Student Information System — also known as BCeSIS.

Fassbender said Saanich could have bid on the project, but they “didn’t even meet the minimum requirements” set by the government and a panel of experts.

“I think what’s at the bottom of this is that they’ve invested a lot of taxpayers’ money, and I appreciate that, but that was their choice. But they don’t have a system that is even close to being ready.”

The district denies this, saying openStudent was ready for use in elementary and middle schools.

“We were ready to start deploying this in September,” said Gregg Ferrie, director of information technology for the Saanich district.

“We’ve got 21Ú2 years and thousands of hours invested in this and we’re less than a year away from finishing it.”

Saanich began working on openStudent in 2011 with the goal of using local expertise to create a made-in-B.C. system for tracking registration, attendance, grades and other student records. By using freely available open source tools, officials believed they could develop the system for less than $5 million, with yearly maintenance pegged at less than $1 million.

By contrast, the province signed a 12-year deal with Fujitsu last November to deliver a new MyEducation B.C. student information system at a cost of up to $9.4 million a year.

Hunter said a number of other B.C. districts showed interest in openStudent, but none had committed money.