Daylight-Saving Change Poses Tech. Challenges for Schools

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Bob Moore has visions of administrators wandering school halls in search of missed meetings, inaccurate time sheets for bus drivers, and personal digital assistants pulsing with incorrect times.

As the executive director of information technology for Blue Valley Unified School District #229 in Overland Park, Kan., it’s Mr. Moore’s job to worry about what will happen when daylight-saving time hits at 2 a.m. on March 11—three weeks earlier than it has for the past 20 years.

A little-discussed action nearly two years ago by federal lawmakers in Washington is having a ripple effect across the country now as school districts’ information-technology staffs, like those in businesses and in other agencies, scramble to update computers programmed to adjust for daylight-saving time on the first Sunday in April. In 2005, as an energy-conservation move, Congress lengthened daylight-saving time by four weeks. It moved the date to “spring forward” ahead by three weeks and delayed the date to “fall back” by one week, from the last Sunday in October to Nov. 4.

Computers and other equipment running on internal clocks may not have gotten the message yet. Staff members in some districts are still trying to find fixes to make sure that computer calendar systems operate correctly and that security door-timer locks open at the right times. Though the impact hasn’t exactly been of Y2K proportions—the mammoth adjustment of the world’s computers required at the turn of the millennium—the impending time change has caused a significant inconvenience for school districts.

Mr. Moore said he and his technology team have spent nearly 1,000 hours working to tackle the challenge in their 20,000-student district.

“You have all these pieces for one person,” Mr. Moore said, citing computers, BlackBerry devices, electronic calendars, and telephone message systems. “If any piece of the puzzle is not taken care of, it will throw everything else off.”

Most software companies, such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, have provided patches for servers and computers that should take care of the problem. For computers that have been updated with the latest version of Windows, for example, the fixes can be done from a central location and do not require a technology troubleshooter to sit down at each computer, said Terry Middleton, the chief information officer for the 106,300-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina.

But districts with older systems may face problems. Each desktop computer may have to be updated individually. Fortunately, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s case, Mr. Middleton said his team created a patch for the older computers among the district’s 40,000 computer workstations that could be downloaded from a central location.

“It’s the technology issue of the month,” he said, “but I think we’re in decent shape.”

In the 96,000-student Jefferson County, Ky., school system, Cary Petersen is taking more of a wait-and-see approach. The district, which includes Louisville, is using the software patch Microsoft provided, but not much else. “We expect that it’s going to hit the fan on Monday,” said Mr. Petersen, the executive director of information technology for the district. “We’re waiting to see what happens. It’s not like we know all of the issues to it.”

'We're Prepared'

As it is, some districts simply have to trust that their employees will update equipment on their own.

John Schuster, a spokesman for the 345,000-student Miami-Dade County schools in Florida, said the district has made the required patches that are needed for new computer systems as well as computer servers, but employees working on older versions of Windows have been instructed to visit a district-created Web page where they’ll find instructions for downloading a patch to update their computers. The same goes for mobile devices such as personal digital assistants, he said.

Like many districts, the Fairfax County school system in Virginia is instructing all employees who use computerized calendar systems to put the actual appointment time for a meeting in the subject line of an e-mail in an effort to override any potential problems, said Andie Powell, the district’s director of information-technology support services.

With 95,000 computers in the 160,600-student district, Ms. Powell said her team has been working on the change since January, and she feels they’ve covered all possible problem areas. “To the extent that we can be, I think we’re prepared,” she said.

While all those technology teams are putting in extra hours to prepare for the new daylight-saving date, computer-technology experts in at least two states can rest easier. Arizona and Hawaii are the only states that do not participate in daylight-saving time.

“For us, it’s business as usual,” said Kathy Bareiss, a spokeswoman for the 74,000-student Mesa, Ariz., public schools. “We don’t think twice about daylight-saving time.”

Vol. 26, Issue Web only

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