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Md. District Mired in High School Scheduling Debacle

Today is Day Four of a nightmarish situation in Prince George's County, Md., an urban/suburban school district outside of Washington.

Since school opened there on Monday, thousands of high school students have been parked in gyms, cafeterias, and libraries waiting for administrators to untangle a massive scheduling snafu. According to The Washington Post, the district bought a $4.1 million student-information system called SchoolMAX last year that was supposed to make it easy to track students' grades, attendance, class schedules, and discipline data.

What's really interesting to us is that Prince George's chief information officer, W. Wesley Watts Jr., sits on an advisory council for SchoolMAX. That sounds a little cozy, doesn't it? Especially when one of the duties of advisory council members is to "assist in the development of strategies to increase the impact of SchoolMAX in the education community itself," according to SchoolMAX's Web site. And wouldn't you think that having one of your top district leaders so closely connected to the company could help with avoiding such problems?

It's not uncommon for these computer programs, which districts spend millions to purchase and train employees to use, to go horribly wrong. Remember the payroll debacle in Los Angeles? That situation, which had some employees going weeks without paychecks and others who were being paid too much, took months and months to straighten out, and not before the teachers' union sued the district and Los Angeles Unified had spent tens of millions of dollars to fix the problem.

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