Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    Glitch in the System

    District’s million-dollar expenditures on IT firm contracts raise more questions than answers

    Peralta students and faculty have struggled for years with creaky and decidedly user-unfriendly information technology. Basic tasks such as enrolling in courses or obtaining class rosters are challenging even for the computer savvy.

    Last November, Chancellor Jowel Laguerre hired Robert Ferrilli, a New Jersey-based IT consultant, to conduct an assessment of district IT.

    So far, Ferrilli has been paid $929,000.

    Now in Nov. 2016, the same problems remain with the district’s IT. In July, Laguerre contracted with Roger Clague to review the Ferrilli Group’s work and provide for a “transition.” Clague was Laguerre’s chief technology officer at Solano College while Laguerre was president there. He was paid $45,000 for his assessment, according to Laguerre.

    What Ferrilli does

    As it turns out Ferrilli is not here to make our system more user friendly. “We don’t touch the Peralta website,” explains Sue Taylor, a Ferrilli consultant.

    Her project is the People Soft system, instituted in June. This is where student records, budget records and personnel records are now kept.

    Taylor also runs SARS, a “third-party vendor app” which allows students to log in when they attend “positive attendance classes,” aka “501 courses.” The Peralta district receives money from the state of California based on attendance records reported to the state.

    Making itself scarce

    All of the Ferrilli team members have long commutes. Bennett lives in Florida and Taylor in Houston. Jonathan Olkowski, a member of the district IT staff, estimates that they work three and a half or four days a week.

    “With Deborah [Bennett] we had one initial meeting in August; the interaction since then has been almost zero,” he said. “Similar case with the person before Deb — George Cross. Sue [Taylor] I actually see, she sits across from me. ”

    Oct. 14 the District Technology Committee (DTC) met, expecting to confer with the Ferrilli team and receive two documents that were supposed to have been completed in March and were urgently needed before the ACCJC’s visit in early November, when Laney comes up for accreditation.

    No one from the Ferrilli Group attended the meeting.

    Stephanie, the half-time consultant, spoke to the DTC by conference call but was unable to answer their questions. She advised them to invite Ferrilli and a few of his team members to their next meeting.

    Nov. 4 DTC meeting

    Bennett did attend the next DTC meeting on Nov. 4, although she announced at the outset that she could only stay for 45 minutes before leaving to catch her plane.

    Bennett brought the two promised documents, the Five-year Tactical Plan and the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis, both in draft form. Each one seemed generic and lacking in specificity. Neither document reflected much familiarity with the Peralta district.

    Bennett referred to the four colleges as “the Peraltas,” and evidently thought that they were all the same size. Blake Johnson, Faculty Co-Chair of the Technology Planning Committee, noticed that one of the documents had a random reference to a company in Australia, as if a chunk of language from another project had failed to be removed from what was essentially boilerplate.

    Bennett did not bring the list of projects requested by the committee so there was nothing to indicate what progress Ferrilli had made.

    Johnson said the committee had requested these documents multiple times and been ignored.

    “We’re spending quite a lot of money and we don’t know what’s happening,” he said.

    “My impression is that most of what happens is behind closed doors, not subject to any oversight.”

    Bennett’s tone became stern, almost military. She told the committee that the Tactical Plan was a road map. “If you want to go somewhere you have to have a roadmap. Staffing is crucial. Arming and quality of arming. It’s not always about the army, it’s about the quality of the army. ”

    “Best practices,” she said. “There’s a right way and a wrong way, and Peralta’s in the gray area now. ”
    Inger Stark, Chair of the PCCD Distance Education Committee, asked if the IT team’s staff report had been incorporated into the Tactical Plan.

    Bennett said it had not. She blamed a “lack of sharing,” although she and Ferrilli had been present at the district office when the IT team was presenting its findings and handing out copies of their report. 
    The discussion was cut off when Bennett left to catch her plane.

    Roger Clague

    Later in the same meeting, Roger Clague, who was introduced as the consultant hired to look over Ferrelli’s work and report back to Laguerre, made a presentation.

    Committee member Bill Love said, “So we’re hiring a consultant to oversee a consultant?”
     
    Clague retorted that he was hired “to assess value for money. You [the committee members] probably don’t have the right skill set to assess whether you’re getting value for money. ”

    Asked if he could give the committee a copy of his report, Clague said that was at the chancellor’s discretion. In a seeming non sequitur he added, “I assure you I don’t write what I’m told. I’m very independent.”

    Roger ClagueFerrilli operated within industry standards. “There were some wins,” he said. “Password resets, ACA penalties avoided. Not everything that was hoped for.” Part of their difficulty was having to do the work of the IT staff that had been let go.

    Regarding a new Chief Technology Officer to lead the IT department, he said that at a vice chancellor’s salary level it should be possible. But he saw obstacles to finding a high quality person locally. He foresaw having to pay relocation expenses in order to lure a qualified person from Silicon Valley.

    Committee member Mark Swiencicki responded, “But this is the center of the Bay Area. Are you saying that we can’t get someone…”

    And Love added, “San Francisco is right across the freeway. IT types are moving to San Francisco and we have a train that berths right here. ”

    Clague responded that Peralta is already paying $900,000 a year in salary “plus travel and putting up in hotels. [Laguerre denied that the district is paying for plane fare or hotels. ] That extra $600,000 could be used to hire a couple of Ferrillis. I’m saying they should bring in Ferrillis to backfill the positions.

    With scant time left, Clague launched into his PowerPoint presentation. “We’ve got to rebuild the Peralta IT technology brand,” he began.

    “In case you’ve lost track of time, today’s the fifth of November.” The date was Nov. 4.

    “The fifth of November as an Englishman is an important date — it’s when our revolutionaries planted gunpowder under the House of Lords — planned to blow it all up. It didn’t happen; it got thwarted, so it’s a big day in our history.
     
    “So I just want you to think about this,” he continued. “2027. Business education started in the 1700’s. 2027. Education is all technology. No longer the classroom.”

    Clague showed a series of slides illustrating the sameness of classrooms over time, until now when we have the possibility of the “virtual presenter.”

    The final slide showed a vast, darkened room filled with empty chairs, dominated by a huge projection screen. A few people sat to one side, as if huddling together, dwarfed by the screen. No teacher was in sight.

    “This is Second Life,” Clague said. “Done with avatars. ”

    “The only way that you can assure that every student reaches their potential is through technology,” he said. “You can’t reach that goal by throwing more staff and more faculty at it. The only way is through technology. ”

    “Circa 2027,” he said, “through goggles you’ll have the ability to be immersed in education, wherever you are. ”
    Johnson interrupted to say he appreciated the forward thinking but,

    “we have limited time. I’m more concerned with 2016 than 2027.”

    “That kind of thinking is just the problem,” Clague said. “You need a road map.” Technology, he added, is what will make it possible to teach “History 101 and Math 3000” in the same classroom.

    Peralta Public Information Director Jeff Heyman cut in to say that he appreciated that the future looks wonderful, but his concern is now.

    “Students can’t enroll — even people who are sophisticated with computers can’t use our system. How would you say we can streamline our enrollment on line?” he asked.

    “You’re absolutely right,” Clague said. “I flashed through the slides so quickly. One of the key things is access, access, access.”

    A million dollars: How the Ferrilli Group made a fortune

    The original Ferrilli contract ($80,000) was implemented in November 2015 to conduct an assessment of District IT and that was extended in January 2016 for another $24,900 as took over IT in March that was changed to a $450,000 contract through July.

    Thereafter, Calvin Madlock and Gina Tomlinson (existing IT administrators under contract through June) were sent home with pay.

    In July of this year the Ferrilli Group contract was extended for $75,000 a month through December
    Chancellor Laguerre brought in Roger Clague, his former Chief Technology Officer at Solano College, to review the Ferrilli Group’s work and provide for a “transition.” Clague’s work was contracted for $45,000. (This figure comes from Laguerre.)

    To total it all up, $929,000 allotted to Ferrilli, $45,000 allotted to Clague, and about four months of pay and benefits to Madlock and Tomlinson.

    Over a million dollars all told.

    None of the above agreements ever followed any bidding process (even when one is above $87,000 as called for by state law) and all were unanimously approved by the PCCD Board of Trustees.

    All of the above information can be found on the Board of Trustees Granicus site.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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