South Florida

Broward School District spent $3 million on time card system but hasn't used in troubled department

By Cara Fitzpatrick, Sun Sentinel

5:33 PM EDT, October 19, 2011

The Broward School District has invested nearly $3 million over seven years in an electronic timekeeping system to track employees' work hours, cut overtime and prevent fraud.

But one of the most troubled departments – facilities and maintenance – has never used it, despite audits going back about a decade detailing lax record-keeping.

And those problems have continued. This year Chief Auditor Patrick Reilly found "excessive" unrecorded absences among 43 employees in design services, a division of the department. The unrecorded hours were worth $65,000; about half of that has been recovered so far.

Maintenance workers haven't used the Kronos System because it was never integrated with other software routinely used in the department. Instead Kronos is primarily used by the district's substitute teachers.

But new Superintendent Robert Runcie said he wants to resurrect Kronos, which was purchased in 2004 after a dozen maintenance workers were accused of taking extended lunch breaks, in some cases at a sports bar featuring a lingerie show.

"It's something we need to do," he said. "I think there could be substantial cost-savings in the district."

The system clocks employees in and out of work sites with fingerprint identification. Unlike Broward's current system, employees have to clock in to get paid for working.

Runcie praised Kronos with saving Chicago Public Schools between $15 million and $25 million a year by preventing "payroll leakage," or hours that are taken off by employees but go unrecorded.

Palm Beach County Schools also has used the system to cut overtime.

Runcie said he thinks it could be implemented districtwide "for not too much money" because the district already has most of the hardware and "we just need to update the software."

Broward has spent money on Kronos every year since the intial start-up costs, including $117,187 last year and $93,337 this year.

Broward Schools spent about $1.8 million in start-up costs in the 2004/05 school year, rolled out a training video and scheduled five employee groups to get it, including facilities and maintenance, transportation and food service.

About seven years later, substitute teachers are among the system's only users. It's been credited with "significant" improvements in their payroll.

District spokeswoman Marsy Smith said Kronos wasn't used because test piloting indicated it would "still require data entry."

But Reilly said the system only requires data entry if an employee fails to clock in or out. He said it also provides a better record to track employees' hours than paper timesheets, which can be lost or altered.

An electronic system like Kronos still can be tampered with, but it's a lot harder to do, Reilly said.

"You have to check in and out – you can't argue with that," he said.

Privacy concerns aren't a problem because the system doesn't store actual fingerprints, according to the company. Instead Kronos assigns a "mathematical representation" to a fingerprint.

The system also prevents workers from having co-workers clock them in and out.

In Chicago Public Schools, every employee uses the system, including top administrators, Runcie said. Workers started paying more attention when they started losing money for not punching in.

"People adjusted to that real quickly," he said.

Board member Nora Rupert said she'd like to see Runcie make it a priority, but has some concerns about whether the system will work.

"Since we bought it in 2004 and here we are in 2011, is it viable?," she asked.

Tom Lindner, the district's interim construction chief, said maintenance was ready to implement the program after its purchase and spent "significant time" resolving concerns from the union.

He wasn't in charge of the department then, but said the program ran into some complications.

Workers still would have required paper time cards because of other software, called Compass, used by the department to generate and track work orders. To replace Compass, the district needed more Kronos terminals to allow workers to clock in and out of all school sites, he said.

Runcie said he believes some of those issues hadn't been resolved by the 2006/07 school year, when other payroll changes were made, which would have required integration with Kronos.

The project was put on hold then, he said.

After the latest incident of excess absences in maintenance, the district changed two payroll employees' duties and announced stricter rules, including a new paper time card.

But Runcie said he thinks Kronos can still be used.

"I don't see why it can't work here," he said.