Computer report draws board's ire
WCLO's Beth Wheelock reports that one solution is almost cost-free.
A report by consultant Elert & Associates included these failings of the Janesville School District's computer system:
-- The system does not limit the number of computer log-in attempts, so "persons of malicious intent essentially have an unlimited number of tries to crack passwords."
-- Desktop computers do not have an automatic logoff protected by a password, so students or others who shouldn't be using a teacher's computer might be able to do so.
-- Computer users reveal their access privileges and passwords to others, compromising security. The report did not state which users are guilty of the practice.
-- The administrator of the Skyward software, which handles a variety of vital personnel, business and academic functions, is not notified when an employee leaves the district, so former employees may have access to sensitive or private data.
-- Some computer facilities are not grounded, leaving them vulnerable to damage from lightning strikes. That includes technology closets at Marshall, Harrison, Jackson, Rock River Charter and TAGOS Charter schools.
-- Some of the technology closets were overly warm, improperly ventilated, used for storage and/or not locked.
JANESVILLE Janesville School Board members are upset by the price tag. They seem just as upset at the gaping holes in the school district's computer security revealed by a computer consultant.
The board met Tuesday night and heard a consultant's report on what it would take to bring the computer system up to date and get it ready for expected future challenges.
The report calls for spending more than $3 million over the next three years. And that doesn't include the cost of adding new staff members to help maintain the system.
Board President DuWayne Severson seemed particularly upset at what he saw as a suggestion that the board simply fund the recommendations and get out of the way. He also said it was impossible for him to immediately analyze the highly technical report.
"It's crazy. I'm sorry, I'm not going to do that," Severson said.
Severson said he would appoint a task force, which might include some community volunteers to review the report in time for the board to make a decision at its next meeting Tuesday, March 10.
Board member Lori Stottler called on the district to fix its security problems immediately.
"If we're that out of touch, then we're even worse off than I thought," Stottler said.
Board member Peter Severson, who works on the state court system's computer system, agreed.
Another immediate concern is lack of "uninterruptible power supply" for some servers, which could cause major problems in a power outage, Peter Severson said.
"I can't believe some of this stuff isn't in place," Peter Severson said.
Board member Greg Ardrey, an engineer who works for Alliant Energy, said grounding the system properly would cost a lot, but it's vital because lightning could "smoke" the system.
Other system failings include lack of information-technology professionals.
"Frankly, you don't have enough bodies. They can't keep up," said Wendy Chretien of Elert & Associates.
Some in the IT department are working excessive hours, one of them essentially doing two jobs, Chretien said.
The report recommends hiring between 5.5 and 8.5 more workers to handle the load. Some of those new positions would replace current temporary workers.
School librarians, who have specialized computer training, are ready to step up to help with problems at their schools and should be used more extensively, Chretien said.
Board member Tim Cullen called the situation "inexcusable" and said the report was incomplete because it failed to hold anyone accountable for the problems.
Cullen noted that Doug Bunton, director of business services, has admitted that the district had taken a "minimalist" approach to funding the upkeep of the computer system. Cullen questioned whether the school board was ever told about the minimalist approach or the possible consequences.
Stottler disagreed with Cullen, saying the job should be to get the system fixed without delay, not to affix blame for past mistakes.
The district budgeted for a new network engineer position for this school year but never filled it. A new IT manager took the reins a year ago, but he was forced to resign last fall in the wake of a virus attack that ravaged the system, frustrating teachers and students district wide.
The district now is interviewing candidates for the manager position. Steve Schlomann of Elert & Associates has been managing the IT effort in the interim.