City schools cancel Web contract

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore school system has terminated a four-year, $3.6 million contract with a Canadian company to provide a Web-based program to track all student information.

System officials declined to comment about why Andres Alonso, the chief executive officer of the Baltimore system, fired Administrative Assistants Ltd, confirming only that ties with the company are being severed.

Nor would they comment about how much of the $3.6 million the system has paid and how much of the money it has paid will be refunded.

John Denomy, project manager for AAL, said the school system has "paid a portion" of the contract amount and has yet to pay other outstanding invoices. As for how much the system will lose as a result of the termination of the contract and whether it will get its money back, Denomy said, "All that has yet to be decided."

The program was supposed to keep track of all student information, including special-education services. The system's problems tracking special-education services have been a key topic in a long-running lawsuit. Schools were required to provide more than 90,000 hours of makeup services such as speech therapy and counseling that they could not prove children had received during the 2004-2005 academic year.

Denomy said the problem with the contract involved the special-education portion. He said the school system, in collaboration with the state education department and a federal court, had requested many modifications of AAL's program. He said the company was preparing those modifications when the system requested that many more changes be made by the start of the school year this month.

"It became so mammoth that it made it difficult to deliver everything on time," he said.

The company released a statement saying that it hopes to work with the system "to develop alternatives which protect their students and tax payers investment."

According to school board minutes, at least one board member expressed concern when the contract with AAL was approved last year that there was insufficient information.

"With such little information to guide our decision, if we make a mistake on this one, that's a $3.6 million mistake," member Anirban Basu said, according to the minutes from the board's Sept. 26 meeting. "So I just wonder if there is any further information that we could get other than just two pages of fairly general discussion about what this is intended to accomplish."

After an administrator answered some of the board members' questions, the board approved the contract.

About the time the AAL contract was approved, critics at the state education department chastised the system for approving a no-bid contract for another program to track special-education services. School system officials said at the time that the contract was necessary as a temporary measure because it would be a few years before the AAL software was fully operational.

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