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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Price tag for community colleges’ new IT system goes up $45 million

Spokane Community College. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Community College. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – With a new information technology system for Washington’s community colleges an estimated $45 million over budget, five years behind schedule and still not working properly, some legislators wonder if they should put a cap on how much more the colleges should be allowed to spend on the troubled project.

“This is real money, $45 million,” Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, said Monday after community college officials had briefed the state Technology Services Board on the latest progress on ctcLink.

When other board members noted that the money comes from a special technology fund set up through student fees, not from taxes sent to the state’s general fund, Miloscia wasn’t satisfied. The cost overruns mean the technology fund won’t be able to spend $45 million on other projects.

“That (money) is re-prioritized from somewhere else,” he said.

The new system was installed at Spokane and Tacoma community colleges as a pilot project in 2015 and immediately created problems for students, staff, administrators and accountants. The State Board of Community and Technical Colleges postponed plans to install it in the state’s remaining community colleges until all the problems were fixed. That process is not yet complete.

Last spring, Ciber Inc., the original vendor that received the contract to install the system and train college staff, went bankrupt and shortly afterward sued the state over nonpayment for some services. The state and Ciber settled the lawsuit in July, with the company getting $2.6 million of the $13 million it claimed it was owed and the colleges getting the software and equipment needed for the system.

Since the problems with ctcLink surfaced, the board has hired a new executive director and an outside consultant to review what went wrong and how to fix it.

After a detailed explanation of the steps that have been taken to fix problems and improve training and oversight, Community Colleges Board Executive Director Jan Yoshiwara said there are still a few items that must be addressed before work is complete on the two campuses for the Community Colleges of Spokane and at Tacoma Community College. Until that time, the other colleges will wait to start installing ctcLink in groups of six to eight schools at a time.

The original price tag for ctcLink was $100 million, of which nearly $88 million has been spent so far. To get the system installed in all 34 community colleges, the new cost estimate is $145 million, with completion estimated for 2022.

The Legislature gave the community colleges the authority in 2012 to collect fees from their students to set up a technology fund, which the colleges board tapped for ctcLink.

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who like Miloscia serves on the separate Technology Services Board, said the tech fund was set up without direct legislative oversight, like several other decentralized funds in Washington.

“Since it’s not general fund money, we don’t watch it closely,” Hudgins said.

But the problems with ctcLink have been so numerous and expensive that the Legislature should consider putting a limit on how much the community colleges could continue to spend to fix them, Miloscia and Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, said

The extra money for ctcLink does need approval from the state’s chief information officer, Rob St. John, who reports to the technology board. Because the community colleges are still waiting to fix some problems before giving the green light to install ctcLink at other campuses, St. John couldn’t give that approval on Monday.

But Yoshiwara said the colleges will need that approval by the end of January, or they will start running out of money that has been approved for the new system.

The technology board decided to meet in mid-January to get one more update on ctcLink before St. John gives the approval to tap the colleges’ fund for the extra $45 million. At that point, Hudgins said, the Legislature will be back in Olympia and could talk about whether there’s a need to put a limit on how much more the colleges can spend on the troubled project.

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