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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Problems still plague community college computers

Problems with the new $100 million computer system the state is testing at the Spokane and Tacoma community colleges continue, leaving some instructors without pay for as long as two months.

The Community Colleges of Spokane had cash flow problems last month, some students still have problems getting their financial aid and staff is holding its collective breath to see what will happen with registration for the winter quarter.

“I haven’t been paid,” one adjunct instructor said Monday, saying the payroll system did not deposit her monthly checks from September or October.

The instructor, who asked not to be identified for fear the community college would cancel her contract for next quarter, said she asked five different people what to do, and was told five different things. On Monday she was told the college is issuing her a check for those two months’ pay.

“It’s been a real mess,” Carla Naccarato Sinclair, the head of the union that represents full-time and adjunct faculty, said of the new computer system, known as ctcLink. “I am almost daily on the phone with payroll and (Human Resources) trying to solve someone’s problems.”

Community Colleges Chancellor Christine Johnson said problems persist for many ordinary financial activities involving the standard business operations for any institution of higher education, including payroll and student aid.

“These are more serious problems than we had hoped and expected,” Johnson said. “These are common things that happen in higher education.”

The State Board of Community and Technical Colleges selected ctcLink to replace a 30-year-old computer system in all 34 of Washington’s community colleges. Spokane and Tacoma were selected to be the “guinea pigs” for the system, which carries a $100 million price tag, money that community college students will pay for years through an increase in their tuition.

After a year of delays, ctcLink went live before the fall quarter at those two college systems, despite warnings from information technology experts at the Community Colleges of Spokane, Greg Bever, a member of the CCS Board of Trustees said.

“We told them, based on tests, the system is not ready,” Bever said. The state board and the company that received the contract for the installation said it was.

Problems developed quickly. Some students, particularly ones who had not pre-registered during the spring quarter, had problems signing up for classes and others had trouble having financial aid processed or paid to them.

“When you have a new computer system, you always have glitches,” Bever said.

But some of those glitches resulted in students not having money to cover tuition, buy books or pay rent, or faculty payroll receipts not reflecting all of the money they were owed or having incorrect deductions.

To correct those mistakes, the payroll office went through a more time-consuming process of getting the authority through the state system to issue paper checks. The college also has sent notices to some banks and other financial institutions, explaining the payroll problems for its employees.

It’s still having problems with students who have classes on the two different campuses, some international students and Running Start students, Johnson said. Administration employees have put in significant amounts of overtime, sometimes working until midnight as they try to help students, solve payroll problems and make corrections to the ctcLink system.

Laura McDowell, a spokeswoman for the state board, said a computer fix for the payroll problems went out Monday.

“It has been a challenge for them,” she acknowledged. “The software is being tested to its limits.”

The other community colleges will receive the benefits of the problems Spokane Community Colleges endured and fixed. But McDowell said there are no plans at this point to reimburse SCC for the overtime costs to fix them.

“The colleges are absorbing the cost of implementation,” she said.