By Ron Leir
To scan or not to scan? That is the latest question posed to the Kearny Board of Education.
With prodding from its newest member Dan Esteves, the board last Tuesday night, invited three vendors – ADP, Kronos and Johnston Communications – to pitch proposals on automating “time and attendance” procedures for its 600 employees – a proposal that the head of the teachers’ union characterized as offensive to its members.
Representatives of Kronos and Johnston touted the supposed virtues of each system’s ability to tie in checks and balances for school security – a pitch that the board president poo-poohed.
After the two-hour session – attended by only five of its nine members – the board accepted another pitch by Superintendent of Schools Frank Ferraro to do nothing until he’s had a chance to research “to find out what other school districts are doing.”
In their presentations, Vincent Kelly of ADP, Wesley Witherington of Kronos and George Sode of Johnston Communications all said, essentially, the same thing: that their companies could allow school supervisors to electronically record employees’ arrival and departure times, edit the data to correct for an employee being delayed for school-related reasons, print out cumulative attendance records and set up overtime benchmarks.
However, the companies differed on the pricing for their systems and on the length of time for the system to become operational.
Kelly said ADP – which provides the same service to Kearny’s municipal government – would charge $66,000 to install seven “portals” (devices that “register” employees’ comings and goings) – one in each school building – for the first year and $34,080 for every year thereafter. For every additional portal “subscription,” Kearny BOE would pay $2,500. The system would take “eight to 12 weeks” to deploy.
Witherington said the Parsippany- based Kronos – which has serviced public schools in Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Ridgewood – would bill Kearny $103,000 for the first year (not including installation) and $12,000 for each year following for eight biometric (fingerprint scanner) portals. Each additional portal would cost $2,300. It would take “three months” to implement the system.
Sode, originally from Kearny, said Johnston Communications – which has been contracted by Secaucus public schools and Kean University – would expect Kearny to pay $94,000 for the first year for eight scanners and $9,000 a year for the next four years. The system, which could be programmed to show employees’ photos when they check in and out, would be up and running in “four to six weeks.” The CBORD Group, which provides the system’s hardware and software, can be programmed to enact school “lockdown” functions, Sode said.
When the board asked for reactions from the public to the notion of electronically keeping tabs on employees, Kearny Education Association President Marcy Fisher was quick to respond. “I as a teacher am highly insulted. Kearny teachers have one of the highest attendance rates in the state,” she said.
Fisher said she was receptive to the board deploying any of the systems for security improvements. “If you want to put in something [for that purpose], you won’t get a fight from me,” she said. However, Fisher added, “If you want to nickel and dime teachers for a couple of minutes, that’s a bunch of nonsense. I think it’s going to be a big long fight. You’re sending a horrible message. Forget it. Don’t do it. Productivity’s going to drop.”
About a decade ago, the board tried to implement a scanner system but poor logistics doomed it, Fisher said. “We had 100 [high school] teachers lined up to ‘palm in’ waiting to get to class.”
Esteves suggested that, “Technology is going to correct a lot of [human] errors. Right now, [checking employee attendance] is on the honor system.” The goal here, he said, is “making sure we’re processing our payroll accurately.”
Esteves has presented the board with surveys by the American Payroll Association purporting to demonstrate the “financial productivity loss” attributed to the school district’s manual processing of employee time cards. He’s pushing the board to use fingerprint scanners.
Asked whether the board could then dispense with people working in the payroll office, Ferraro said the idea is to “improve efficiency” and collect data more easily. “We’re not looking to eliminate someone’s job,” he added.
Nonetheless, Fisher retorted, “The message you’re sending [to employees] is ‘we don’t trust you.’ ’’ Compelling workers to “palm in” is nothing more than an ‘I gotcha, I caught you’ attitude, she said.
“Don’t we pay people to make sure they’re on the job?” Fisher asked. Yes, agreed O’Malley, “but there has to be a better way [of teachers and non-instructional staff signing in and out] than to write it down on paper.”
At one point, the discussion turned toward the notion that the district could apply part of a vendor’s software package to automated control of access to school buildings, even extending, for example, to allowing a teacher or administrator to “check in” by using a key or swipe card but O’Malley was having none of it.
“It’s not a foolproof system,” the board president insisted. “Card access, in my opinion, is worthless. One person opens a door and 15 can walk in, so spending money on that is worthless.” Moreover, O’Malley said, if the district were to install a sensor system that automatically trips open a school’s entrance door, a situation could unfold where a child in a hallway sees a stranger outside, approaches the doorway and, inadvertently, triggers the infra-red sensor, opening the door to the stranger.
Better, he said, to stick to the attendance and time system so the district can keep tabs on whether “sick and vacation time is being reported properly.”
But board member Cecilia Lindenfelser felt the board had no clear direction where it wanted to go. “I still don’t know what our goal is,” she said. “We need to define the problem first. Is it checking part-timers’ hours? Is it overtime? Security?” She said she felt there was “nothing wrong” with teachers “putting [their name] down on paper” when logging in and out.
Ferraro appealed to the board to give him some time to check with the N.J. Schools Boards Association and other professional groups “to find out what other schools are doing” with attendance and time issues. “Anything we put in would be designed to enhance the human [supervisory] factor,” he added.