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Vancouver School Board software program causing ‘crisis,’ memo says

Mike Bernier is pictured at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on July 30, 2015.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

A software program at the Vancouver School Board has triggered a host of problems since it was introduced in 2015, including employees being paid for vacation or sick leave for which they were not entitled.

The problems are outlined in a September 16 memo to a VSB finance committee from former secretary treasurer Russell Horswill, who went on leave from his job last month and has since been hired as secretary treasurer for the Burnaby school district.

In the memo, Mr. Horswill called the situation a "crisis" and said the system poses several risks, including loss of key personnel and "grievances pertaining to workload and working conditions."

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"Employee Services has been operating in an unstable business environment since the implementation of PeopleSoft," the memo says. "VBE [Vancouver Board of Education] are often at risk of failing to meet payroll deadlines, produce accurate financial reporting, and comply with collective agreement and legislative deadlines."

The software problems featured briefly in a report released Friday by consulting firm EY. That report, along with a review by special adviser Peter Milburn – also released Friday – were commissioned by provincial Education Minister Mike Bernier in the wake of the board's refusal earlier this year to pass a balanced budget as required by law.

Mr. Bernier fired the nine elected trustees on October 17.

In its review, EY noted that, "although the [PeopleSoft] system had been operational for the past 18 months, there have been many changes and developments to the program."

The EY report recommended the VSB "explore taking advantage of recent implementation of PeopleSoft by providing shared services and/or host systems for [human resources] and payroll for other districts."

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To date, however, the VSB has been focused on ensuring its own employees are paid on time.

"Ensuring teachers and support staff are paid is critical to the effective running of Vancouver schools and the district is grateful for the relentless efforts of Employee Services staff to keep the system running," the board's communications office said in an emailed statement in response to questions about the PeopleSoft program.

"The investment in more staff will stabilize the system and ensure our teachers and support staff continue to receive their correct pay."

Oracle Corp., which owns PeopleSoft, declined comment.

Payroll systems are critical for organizations such as the VSB, which spend most of their budget – about 90 per cent in the VSB's case – on salaries and benefits.

According to a 2013 memo, the previous system – in operation for more than 20 years – was "in urgent need of upgrade." After months of research, the board settled on a PeopleSoft system, which had an estimated cost of $6-million over 10 years.

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In B.C., the provincial government has run into problems with technology upgrades for sectors including health care and social services. A 2012 review of an Integrated Case Management System for social workers, for example, found the system was "perceived by users as being not fit for purpose", the auditor-general said. The province spent about $668-million on IT last year, including buying new projects and maintaining existing ones.

This past July, the government launched a review four months after a new electronic health record system was implemented at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. Doctors had complained the system was generating incorrect drug dosages, among other problems.

At the federal level, estimates of how much it could cost to fix the problem-plagued Phoenix payroll system for public servants, which went into operation in February, run as high as $50-million.

For the VSB, which has an annual budget of about $500-million, switching to a new payroll system meant new software and new employees.

The VSB estimates it will require 11 employees, at a cost of about $850,000 a year, to run the system, the EY report says.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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