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

Washington community college software system ctcLink now two years behind schedule, $10 million over budget

One of the largest IT projects in Washington state government, perhaps in all of higher education, is now years behind schedule and $10 million over budget, although officials say the program is headed in the right direction.

Called ctcLink, the software is designed to connect most financial, student-scheduling and employee functions in the state’s 34 community colleges and replaces a 30-year-old system.

Statewide the system has still only been rolled out in three test colleges: Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane Community College and Tacoma Community College. Some $70 million of the estimated $100 million total cost of the project already has been spent, a figure that doesn’t include costs incurred at the local level.

Laura McDowell, director of communications for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, said the $70 million already spent includes the cost of buying the software for the entire 34-college system. But the state estimates the project will be $10 million over budget by the time it’s done. All colleges should be online by early 2019, McDowell said, nearly two years later than expected.

Carla Naccarato-Sinclair, the president of the Community Colleges of Spokane’s faculty union, said problems persist. Right now the problem is contracts for adjunct instructors, while over the spring and summer there were issues with leave time, benefits and compensation, as well as faculty reimbursements.

“I had faculty that were underpaid, and then I had faculty that were drastically overpaid,” she said. “Morale is a little bit low when it comes to ctcLink because you don’t quite trust the system.”

And Mike Wilson, the chairman of the CCS Board of Trustees, said the board has not received an updated financial report from colleges in the last 12 months because of the software problems.

This, and the concerns among faculty and staff, prompted Wilson to asked the Washington Attorney General’s Office in August to “review and assist” CCS in finishing the software implementation and provide “some relief for the damages” suffered.

On Sunday the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges sent a letter to Community Colleges of Spokane explaining how the remaining issues will be fixed, McDowell said.

“We have come a long way with it, but issues remain,” she said.

The next wave of software implementation is planned to start in January, she said, and will include five schools and the state board’s office.

“We want to make sure we iron things out in our pilots,” she said. “Large projects like this can be very complex and challenging and that’s why we started small.”

Christine Johnson, chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane, said one of her concerns is whether the college system will be penalized. Johnson said there are a number of regulatory bodies the college is expected to submit reports to, reports they are unable to produce.

“These state agencies may or may not know about this,” she said. “Part of our hope is that CCS isn’t penalized.”

As of April CCS has spent about $500,000 on unexpected overtime costs during the 2015/16 academic year related to the software rollout, Johnson said. Prior to that CCS spent $1.3 million on staff training, travel and overtime, although those costs were anticipated.

Earlier this year Johnson blamed an $8 million system-wide deficit in part on the flawed software rollout.

“One of my big things, this is student money,” Naccarato-Sinclair said. “All this money we are spending locally on training and extra overtime, that’s money we don’t have to spend.”

The software was originally scheduled to be operational in August 2014 but was delayed three times because of concerns over its functionality. When the system did debut in August 2015, it was plagued with problems.

At that time the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges said the program would be operational at all 34 colleges by August 2018.