It’s not right to dance on a grave, but with SESIS we’ll make an exception.
In 2011, the Bloomberg administration rolled out the Special Education Student Information System without talking to the educators who would use it. The former mayor’s lawyers and consultants decided they knew the best way to serve the 200,000 students with disabilities in New York City public schools. They claimed their new online data system, which required educators to enter all the information, would result in better coordination of services and higher Medicaid reimbursements.
What educators got instead was a system that malfunctioned on a massive scale. SESIS was unable to handle the amount of traffic it received and was plagued with breakdowns, error messages, disappearing data and other technical glitches. The city lost hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements because of the flawed system.
The UFT asked members to document their problems with SESIS, which paved the way for a landmark ruling in 2013 by an arbitrator who ordered the DOE to compensate 30,000 SESIS users for time spent outside their regular work hours based on the system’s own tracking of their time logged into SESIS. When the DOE failed to fix the problems, the UFT pursued a second arbitration case and won a $33 million settlement for 37,000 members in 2017. In all, thanks to the union’s advocacy on behalf of its members, the DOE had to pay out more than $73 million to UFT members for off-hours SESIS work.
While no one is mourning the death of SESIS, UFT members have legitimate concerns about what will replace it. Will special education teachers, assessment professionals and related service providers have appropriate input this time? Will the city learn from similar systems that seem to work in school districts elsewhere?
All good questions the DOE should answer as it phases out SESIS.
As the saying goes, “Thank you, next.”