Just try asking employees in the school system's accounting office to trace whether a bill has been paid, or for the number of past-due accounts at any given time.

Or walk over to the personnel department and ask how many teachers fit a profile.

To get an answer is a tedious process, requiring lots of time and considerable paperwork. Employees must gather and sort the information manually.

And the problem doesn't stop there. Principals have only limited access to constantly changing budget information involving their own schools. And teachers, already overloaded with paperwork, are seeking faster methods for grading and monitoring student progress while offering more individualized instruction.

A system-wide computer operation is long overdue in Anne Arundel County schools, say education officials. At a total cost of $50 million, county school officials think, ISIS -- Integrated School Information System -- will fill the bill.

But the money needed for ISIS to serve the county's 65,000 students has been slow in coming. Financing for the project -- $4.9 million -- and early warnings of tight fiscal negotiations may mean future trouble.

In addition, the arrival of a new county executive and four new County Council members, all unfamiliar with ISIS, may mean selling the plan all over again.

Even incumbent Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville, said he will have to review the benefits of the project before voting for further spending.

"When times are good, we do as much as we can," Boschert said. "When there is a tight economic climate, we will have to ask the school system to tighten its belt. We will ask them to come to us with a priority list. If ISIS is a top priority, then we can talk about that.

"The problem is that I don't think there will be much money coming from the state. If we have to sit on the ISIS project for a year, we will do that."

Bill Scott, the school system's assistant superintendent for administration, heads the team charged with putting ISIS in place. The system will link county schools with the central office.

"ISIS allows schools to come into the 20th century and to take advantage of technology and capabilities being used by business and industry to improve delivery of our service," Scott said.

Organizations such as the Oregon-based International Society for Technology in Education are calling for school systems throughout the country to reshape schools to incorporate changing technology. But getting the remainder of the money to complete the link between all 121 county schools and the central office -- Scott expects the board to request $10 million in the coming budget year -- will not be easy.

Already the project has fallen three months behind schedule while installing computers at two of the three pilot sites.

The instructional portion of ISIS is up and running at Annapolis Middle and is scheduled to be installed at Parole Elementary next week and Annapolis Senior High School on Jan. 7.

Instructional systems are already in place at Severna Park Senior High School, the county's demonstration location for the program. And recently constructed elementary schools, including Shipley's Choice and Windsor Farm, have functioning computer labs and classroom computers for individualized and advanced instruction. State construction money for new schools includes allowances for computers.

But Scott admits a certain degree of anxiety about the future of the project, which is why ISIS was designed to function on a school-by-school level, in case money dries up before all schools are completed. Scott is hoping to have all county schools on line with the ISIS program within the next three years.

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