Chapter 5-3 ODE (1986-2004)
After resigning my position at Tolles Technical Center, I started my position at the Ohio Department of Education (hereafter referred to as ODE)
This chapter deals strictly with my work at the Department of Education. Activities and family life outside of my job will be discussed in the next chapter.
I reported into the personnel office at 65 South Front Street, Columbus, Ohio on Friday, January 17, 1986. I filled out a ton of paperwork, had my picture taken and my security badge prepared. State workers were all issued security badges because some state buildings required them for admittance. My job would require me to interact with the Department of Budget and Management and the State Auditor’s Office, both of which required badge access. I was then escorted to my work area, Department Accounts under the direction of the Comptroller. My job title would be Accounting Project Manager. My beginning salary was just under $29,000 a year. But, in order to retain me, I received rapid promotion and raises until at the end of my three-year period that I agreed on, my salary was double that of a teacher’s salary, and I couldn’t afford to leave. In education, we called this “golden handcuffs.” My final salary at time of retirement was just over $75,000.
On Monday, January 20, 1986, I drove downtown and had no trouble finding a parking spot. I noticed the traffic as being very light. I walked into the building and found myself in an empty building. At first I was bewildered, but found a security guard who let me know that this was a holiday, Martin Luther King day. We didn’t take this day off at Tolles, but it was a day off for the state. I went back home and waited until Tuesday to go back to work.
Downtown Columbus, from left, The tall background building is 40 E Broad, the Rhodes State Office Building. In front, the typical skyscraper shaped building is the Lincoln-Leveque Tower the white square building to its right is 25 S. Front St which is on the corner of Broad and Front Streets. the white, coppertop building to the right is 65 S. Front, located on the Scioto River. The building behind which looks like someone took a bite out of the roof is the Huntington Building. The tall skinny building to its right is another state office building, the Rife Tower. The Huntington and Rife buildings are on High Street. Across High Street, not visible in this picture is the State Capital Building. I mention all these because my job required constant travel between this group of buildings. We had an underground system of tunnels which connected them all. The Huntington Bank Building was the hub. To get to the Rhodes Building, I would take a tunnel under Front Street to the Rife Tower. From there, underground to the Huntington, then under High Street to the Capital, then underground to the Rhodes Tower. From the Capital, you could exit underground to the City Center Mall to the South. In the wintertime, the underground tunnels were of immense help in avoiding the ice, snow and bitter cold winds.
Parking was always a problem downtown. Parking Meters extended from the center out for many blocks. To avoid high parking costs at meters, we either parked about a half-mile away and walked, or paid a monthly fee in one of the parking lots adjacent to downtown. I parked across the Broad Street Bridge in a parking lot behind COSI. This was about a 5 to 10 minute walk.
One very cold, icy day, I was crossing the town street bridge (the next bridge south of the Broad Street Bridge. I had been to our Federal Assistance Building in Worthington and so everyone was already at work. I slipped on the ice, and twisted my ankle to the point I couldn’t walk. I ended up crawling and hoisting myself on the bridge railing to drag myself along. When I reached Front Street, I hopped on one leg across the street, then was unable to continue. I ended up crawling down Front Street to my building, where Security helped me to my office. I called Mary. She drove our other car to the bus stop in Lincoln Village, caught a bus downtown, got my car, picked me up and took me to the emergency room. By the next day, I was able to hobble somewhat and retrieved Mary’s car from the Lincoln Village Bus Stop.
The Department of Education was not all housed together. The Federal Assistance Division was housed in an office complex in Worthington, a northern suburb of Columbus, about 8 miles from downtown. The Ohio School for the Blind was located about a mile to the south of Worthington. The Ohio School for the Deaf was located on Fifth Street near Franklin University. The State Library was located in the top three floors of our building at 65 South Front Street, and the Ohio Veterans Children’s Home was located in Xenia, Ohio. The building we were in had originally been the Ohio Supreme Court which had moved to 40 East Broad in the Rhodes Tower. The Supreme Court then decided to move back to our building/ We then renovated and moved next door to 25 South Front. The State Library moved near the Columbus State College campus, Federal Assistance moved into 25 South Front with us. Our mainframe computer moved into a secure computer facility at the Ohio State University, and the Ohio Veterans Children’s Home had closed in 1997. The Ohio School for the Blind remained in its location and the Ohio School for the Deaf moved into a facility near the School for the Blind. The Ohio Highway Patrol headquarters moved into the old School for the Deaf. 25 South Front had belonged to the Department of Transportation which built a new facility on West Broad Street, the former location of the State Hospital for the Insane. This prison-like structure had been demolished and a new modern mental health residential facility was built adjacent to the Department of Transportation.
Scioto River – Downtown Columbus, Ohio
The top bridge is the Broad Street Bridge, the middle bridge is the Town Street Bridge and the Lower Bridge is the Rich Street Bridge. The Town Street Bridge has since been torn down, and the Rich Street has been rebuilt into a multi-lane bridge.
This chapter from this point on will be technical. I apologize, but there may some of my family that will understand and enjoy the intricacies of my profession. Since I will be using many acronyms, a short glossary might be useful.
- CAS – Central Accounting System – Used by State Accounts
- FAS – Financial Accounting System – Used by the Ohio Department of Education
- ODE – Ohio Department of Education
- OSB & OSD – Ohio School for the Blind, Ohio School for the Deaf
- COBOL – Common Business Oriented Language – A computer programming language
- IBM – International Business Machines – Company manufacturing IBM computers.
- DEC – Digital Equipment Corporation – Company manufacturing DEC computers
- IP – Information Processing. Office in companies responsible for computer support
I had been hired to oversee the design of a new Accounting System, which would be called the Financial Accounting System or FAS. The State of Ohio had just purchased an accounting system that was used by the city of Baltimore, Maryland and had adapted it for state use. This system was called the Central Accounting System or CAS. Both systems were designed in COBOL, a language that I knew. The biggest problem was the design of the bridge between the systems. The state used an IBM main frame, and we were using DEC 20’s. The systems languages were different, although this posed no particular problem. The biggest problem was that the method of storing data was different. Without getting into too much technical detail, the byte coding was different. The IBM used EBCDIC (Extended Binary-Coded Decimal Interchange Code) and the DEC used ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). I had to design bridge software that could convert one character set from ACSCII to EBCDIC prior to passing files into the State’s system, and receiving files from the state and parsing them back from EBCDIC to ASCII.
My first task was to learn the CAS system of coding and find ways to match our data needs to the available fields and their edits. This was a very large task, because not only did we have differences in usage, we actually had philosophical differences as to what the data should do. We were constrained by the code limitations. I could design codes that didn’t exist in CAS, but they would need to be internal and not interface with CAS.
I outlined my needs to the Department, both for equipment and software. The Department of Education made an assumption that I would need to spend considerable time in learning the CAS system before I was ready to begin implementation. This was not so and caused considerable frustration on my part. I took the CAS manual home and had it pretty much analyzed before the end of the week and was ready to get started. It soon became apparent that I had been brought on board prematurely, and found myself extremely bored with absolutely no work to do. The management team of Ernst and Whinney had been hired to actually write the software under my direction, but they were not due to arrive for several months.
Another problem was internal politics. The IP Division which housed the DEC 20 and did systems design and programming for the department was a closed shop. The department head had resisted my hiring, wanting to make the choice himself, and have me work in his shop under his direction. His philosophy was that any systems work belonged to him, that there should be no independent programming or data decisions made without his input and approval. This was a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. He did not understand that his was a support function and his job was to find ways to implement data needs. This was a common philosophy in the early days of computers. The problem is that when both the determination of needs and the implementation fall under a single shop, tunnel vision is the result. New ideas and concepts almost always are external.
When he was not given that responsibility of my hiring or control of my job, he decided to hinder my work whenever possible. The first incident was when I needed a terminal. He told my supervisor, the Comptroller, that I could not have one and that any needs would have to be relayed from me to his assistant who would then utilize his staff to use the DEC 20. My supervisor told me and I hit the ceiling. He went back to the IP area and told them that they would have to supply a terminal. They then, said. “OK, but it will take 90 days to get a line into the office.” So I found a data port on the wall next to the door, strung a piece of wire into the hallway, moved a desk into the hallway, borrowed a terminal from Vocational Education and set up shop in the hallway. The IP supervisor was livid. I also requested COBOL manuals and again was denied; with the excuse that only the IP Center was allowed to have access to programming information.
I knew that this just was not going to work out. I called my teaching partner at Tolles Tech Center and explained the problem. The next day, a full set of COBOL manuals was delivered to my desk – source mysterious! After another week of in-fighting and lack of IP support, I told the Comptroller that unless the situation improved, I was going to quit the following week. I had multiple job opportunities. Vocational Schools throughout the state repeatedly tried to recruit me. So the Comptroller set up a luncheon appointment with Dr. Ray Horn, the Assistant Superintendent of Education for Ohio, a very powerful man in the Department. I explained my dilemma. This was Friday afternoon. When I came into work on Monday, I had a private office, with a brand new terminal, file cabinets and a personal visit from the assistant head of the IP Division telling me that anything I needed, I only needed to ask. This never changed during my career with the department.
This problem of the tale wagging the dog was a constant source of irritation which I brought up at every possible opportunity in staff meetings, and eventually resulted in the IP Director being forced into retirement. After that, the shop became more open and responsive to department needs. Many of my ideas were implemented, including the purchase of new equipment, and especially the eventual move to a database environment. COBOL was never designed for the database world. It was developed at the Pentagon in 1959 and used flat files instead of a database. The explanation is much too technical for me to discuss here, but it was simply a matter of a need for modernization, in software, data files, and equipment. The DEC 20’s were replaced during my design project with VAX 7000 and then VAX 9000 systems. Eventually DEC was bought out by COMPAC who replaced the mainframe VAX’s with high-powered multi-station workstations more suited to the Department’s expanding need for internet and E-mail use.
When I first arrived, the top echelon consisted of Frank Walter, Superintendent. The Assistant Superintendents were Irene Bandy, Jim Van Keuren, Ray Horn, Bob Bowers, and Bill Phyllis. The Comptrollers Office was under Ray Horn who was in charge of federal accounts, but Jim Van Keuren oversaw the Foundation Accounts, and Irene Bandy, all other State-level Accounts. Thus we actually had three Assistant Superintendents to work with. I would find this to be a problem from time to time and different individuals would have different priorities. In August 1991, Franklin B Walter retired and was replaced by Ted Sanders, formerly Acting U.S. Secretary of Education who served from 1991 to 1995. Ted was replaced by John Goff who served until 1999. Susan Zelman who had been State Superintendent in Missouri served from 1999 and was Superintendent when I retired.
While waiting for Ernst and Whinney, I asked the Comptroller if I could actually work on an account, thus gaining experience by actually working with the existing system. I felt that this would help me understand the needs better during the project’s design phase. He was agreeable, but the problem was that the account clerk’s positions were union and I was management. By policy, I wasn’t allowed to do that level of work, and the union steward was in my shop. We talked with her, and she agreed that I was only doing for educational use, not for as a job, she agreed. This time proved to be extremely valuable, not only during development but in times of later systems and data problems.
Finally Ernst and Whinney (During the project, the company named changed to Ernst and Young), a name I will use hereafter, arrived. We set up an office space for them and I moved my office into that area to better coordinate the effort.
I found out almost immediately that the project director from Ernst and Young considered me to be a resource rather than in charge. Since I was so new to the Department, I found that I was not going to get Departmental support for my controlling the project. So I shrugged my shoulders and figured that if anything went wrong, I could always blame it on Ernst and Young, and let them take over. This proved in the long run to be a disaster because the assigned team had absolutely no concept of the difference between governmental and private accounting practices. In later years, their design would not meet NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) standards resulting in our not being able to obtain good bond ratings on Wall Street. As I will discuss later, we ended up scrapping FAS and building a new system.
Another problem was that Dr. Horn was the ultimate decision maker for the system. Since he was the Director of Federal Accounts and held the purse strings for all federal grants, he had the system designed to support federal programs without any consideration of the myriad needs of Ohio funds. This resulted in offices that managed state funds designing sub-systems to meet their needs instead of integrating into one master accounting system. To me this made absolutely no sense, since School Finance’s budget was twenty times larger than that of Federal Assistance accounts, and School Food Service had to supply every school building in the state. Yet these were not built into the new system. This resulted in a silo system, or one that worked independently of the main system. This created a reporting nightmare. There was no consistency in reporting methods and the various shops would not talk to each other or take direction from the Comptroller. There was considerable protectionism for the various systems. I fought this for years, constantly reminding the Department that this issue would have to be eventually resolved and a single accounting system developed. I was definitely a squeaky wheel, and eventually got my way after nearly 20 years of fighting. I will discuss the resolution later.
Well anyway, we began design. Right away, we ran into problems with the Computer Department. Ernst and Young and I would have to write COBOL programs. But, once again, writing software was not only a IP function, it was a union job! We did a little research and found that the union lock did not pertain to contracted projects, so we were able to begin programming. The project took nearly three years from implementation through final testing. It never fully met the program requirements and eventually the State signed off on the project and released Ernst and Young, even though we were not fully satisfied. We spent years correcting “bugs” and making code patches until we ended up with a system that those is the industry call “spaghetti code.” It had lost any resemblance to top-down coding which is what good programmers design. Finally it reached the stage where if we fixed one thing, the fix broke three more, and further modification became futile.
After the project ended, my job duties changed. I became the manager of the system and my title became CAS Coordinator. My job was to resolve any differences between the State’s reports and FAS reports. I also became a trouble-shooter, not just for the system, but for accounting problems in general. I also was the accounting liaison between the department and sub-agencies of the department (Ohio School for the Blind, Ohio School for the Deaf, State Library, and Cleveland Scholarship Program) I reached the point where I could actually do the job of anyone in the Department Accounts, whether Accounting, Purchasing, or Internal Auditing. In addition, I designed new codes for both CAS and FAS as new funds became available. I also had to know the Annual State Budget intimately and make sure that the system could implement any new or changes directives from the State Budget. I worked closely with State Accounts and the State Auditor and sat on many state-level financial committees. I also had to prepare the Department’s Annual Financial Report and prepare our input into the State’s Annual Financial Report. I also prepared myriad spreadsheets analyzing data and preparing longitudinal studies of financial trends. As time went on, I became less a technical specialist and more of a financial analyst and auditor. After awhile my reputation grew and I became recognized as an authority in spreadsheet design. Everyone started calling me “The Guru.” This nickname stuck with me until I retired.
I also worked on projects for other divisions within the Department. I was continually offered horizontal movement, but I liked my job in Department Accounts. The Personnel Director asked me to help design an inventory system for the Department, which I did. This system was then adopted by the state and became the foundation for the State’s Equipment and Infrastructure Inventory System. I also designed the payroll software for both the Ohio School for the Blind and the Ohio School for the Deaf.
In 2001, I received my 20 Year Recognition. Each year, employee were recognized at our annual Superintendent’s Report for years of service.
My job gradually grew as more and more tasks were added. One task that came later was to become a department trainer for Microsoft Office. Actually I liked this or otherwise the job would have become boring. I settled into a routine and began to train backup employees for my job. My level of expertise increased until I was considered to be the main spokesman for accounting for the Department both at the Department and at the State Level. This resulted in my being invited to sit on design committees and to help choose the State’s new accounting and personnel systems.
During the years, I also attended many training courses. I spent two weeks in Chicago learning VAX Systems and Commands, and attended courses for various reporting software packages such as Crystal Reports, People Soft, Oracle Financials, etc. In addition, I trained new employees in how to use our accounting systems, CAS, FAS, and later on our new Oracle system.
As with any job, it wasn’t all work. We always had parties. Each year we had our Halloween and Christmas Parties and after the thirtieth of June, the annual end-of-year party. (The State Fiscal Year ends June 30). We also celebrated birthdays. We had weekly staff meetings, and quarterly, we went to outside locations such as library meeting rooms for training. During these training sessions, we brought in outside speakers and were granted credit for the courses which were important because the credits qualified us to renew our teaching certificates. Many Department Employees, especially management held either supervisory or teaching certificates. The Department also held in-service meetings and awards meetings. These were normally held in downtown theaters or at the School for the Blind which had a large auditorium. For smaller groups, we used a large room at the School for the Deaf. The advantage of using the schools was that we could have lunch in the cafeteria or have the lunch catered into our training rooms.
I liked the people I worked with, but never socialized with them outside of work, meetings or parties. Some of the staff were also friends socially. This was usually OK, except the Union Steward for the Department was also a good friend of both the Comptroller and the Personnel Director and enjoyed a very close relationship with one of the Assistant Superintendents. Normally these are antagonistic positions and this antagonism usually results in negotiation. Friendship can interfere with the mission and often did. The union held far too much power and tended to influence the Department’s goals and mission far more than what I thought was healthy. Department Accounts Staff in 1999:
- Top Row Left – Becky, Marilyn, Ann, Ted,
- 2nd Row – Sharon, Me, Kristi
- 3rd Row – Joyce, Sandy, Susan
- 4th Row, Nancy, Shelly, Kay
- 5th Row – Carol, Barb
I mentioned Ohio State Funds. The largest of these funds was the School Foundation. When I started in 1981, this fund was about 3.5 billion per year and by 2004 had grown to 9 billion. This was the main fund that every school district needed for operation. It was based on a very complicated formula, taking in various populations within districts, such as number per class, number of handicapped, number of poor, etc. The formula had been adopted by the state legislature in 1950 and had never been revised, even though it was very outdated and tended to over-compensate richer and urban districts. We still had schools in Ohio with outhouses! The Appalachian areas of Ohio with extremely low tax-bases and high rates of unemployment were most unfairly impacted by discrepancies in the formula. Unfortunately, the formula was a political hot-potato and attempts to overhaul it failed repeatedly. To attempt the job could be political suicide. This eventually resulted in one of our Assistant Superintendents, Bill Phyllis, retiring and setting up the Ohio School Funding Coalition which sued the state over the funding inequities. The State lost in Federal court and was mandated to fix the system. On the surface, Bill was an enemy of the Department, since we were co-defendants in the lawsuit. However, I have always felt that his departure was well-planned behind closed-doors by the State Board of Education, since the suit benefited the children of Ohio. Of course, there is no way the Department would ever acknowledge this level of collusion. There were some of us with more political savvy who always felt this way. I don’t suppose we will ever know for sure unless Bill Phyllis writes a book. I always admired Bill for his courage, and spoke to him whenever I met him on the street or in the Capital Building. I seriously considered joining his staff after retirement, but family matters made this decision impractical.
Time Passed. For years, each day was essentially the same. The same tasks were repeated and differences in routine were normally the result of some major problem, meeting, or seminar. The following describes a typical day for me during my time at the Department
·Sometime after Midnight. The State’s IBM computer finishes daily production and files are prepared for transfer to the various state agencies.
·5:00 a.m. The duty operator at the Computer Center logs into the IBM computer and if production has completed, implements the program to download our files into our Accounting System (FAS, later Oracle)
·5:00 – 7:00 Production runs on our system. Transaction files update the system and reports are prepared and sent to satellite printers in the various divisions.
·8:00 – I report for work and log into the Accounting System, then pull off activity reports off my printer.
·8:15 – Review the error log. (Not all transactions automatically update the system; some need the addition of internal codes or my determination as whether the line is a debit or credit.). Log into the error file and made necessary corrections and additions and put the file into the processing directory to be appended to the next days production file. (A typical day would have anywhere from 4 to 16 corrections. If a programmer had made an error in one of the satellite or silo systems, I could have hundreds of lines of bad code. When this occurred, I extracted the bad lines and made the satellite programmers make their own corrections and send the file back to me. I then appended his corrections to the rest of the file.)
·8:30 – Log into CAS and FAS and check line item and fund cash balances. When satisfied with the production, send a message that the system can be brought up for work, and the Computer Division can open the accounting system for user input.
·8:45 – Authorize the Accounting Staff to print vouchers and run reports. Read e-mail.
·9:00 – Review Reports and update or prepare analysis worksheets in Microsoft Excel.
·10:00 – Receive word that a new program was being implemented for one of the funds. Meet with the program staff in the applicable division to obtain information about the new program. Review my lists of existing codes and design the necessary accounting codes for the new program.
·11:00 – Log into CAS and FAS and update the code tables to input the new program codes. Update the relationship tables to link the new code to its proper parent and subsidiary codes (Funds, Line Items, Spending Area Codes, Parent Division, Authorized Spending Divisions, and Authorized Spending Fiscal Years)
·1:00 Check E-Mail and attend brief meeting with???
·2:00 Train new personnel on how to use the systems. Grant security access to new employees and established level of access in security tables.
·3:00 Pick up Warrants (checks) from the State Auditor and put them into safe for distribution to accounting clerks the following day.
·4:00 Send message to Department to log-off the accounting system and that shut down for daily processing will be in 15 minutes.
·4:15 Check system status. If any users are logged onto the process, send them a 30 second warning and set their process to terminate.
·4:20 Verify that all users are logged off financials and notify Computer Center to begin daily processing. This automated process will run about two hours and at the end will automatically pass the file to CAS.
·4:30 End of Work Day.
Also as time passed, we enjoyed the usual changes and advances in technology. Our IBM Selectric typewriters were sent to salvage, Old style file cabinets were replaced with new lateral cabinets. Old pre-WWII steel desks were scrapped. Open work areas were replaced with modular work stations. Terminals were replaced with PC’s. PC’s were upgraded. New software, especially e-mail, and office productivity bundles were added. Sprinkler systems were installed. New Air Conditioning units that sometimes worked were installed.
I had started work at 65 South Front Street. This building was a WPA project built in the 30’s and was a typical old fashioned government building. It originally housed the Supreme Court and some administrative units. The Supreme Court had moved into a more modern building and we moved into the building along with the State Library and some veterans’ organizations. The building had high ceilings with exposed pipes, radiators supplied heat and hissed and banged, and the floors were marble. The walls were concrete with marble about three feet up, and painted concrete above that. Lights were suspended florescent. The building was drafty, very utilitarian, and generally uncomfortable. My division, Department Accounts moved several times over the year. We started on the seventh floor, moved to the fourth, broke into two sections, one on the second and one on the eighth and finally were able to obtain enough room on the eighth floor to house the entire division. We shared that floor with School Finance. I did not really want to move. My work unit was on the second floor along with the Veterans Units and I had a balcony outside my office. I could go out on the balcony and look over the river.
In 1998, we moved from our building into 25 South Front – next door. This building had belonged to the Department of Transportation, but a new building at the intersection of Broad Street and Interstate 70 on the West Side had been built. The State Hospital for the Insane had occupied this site for years and had been torn down. I was in the old building once, and it was the most depressing place I have ever visited. The facilities in “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” were like the Waldorf Astoria in comparison.
We moved into the new building and we shared the ground floor. The east side was one story underground, but the west side was at street level because the building was on a hill-side overlooking the Scioto River. We shared the floor with Grants Management, Computer Services, and the Internal Auditor’s offices. We had plenty of room. I had a private office with new furniture. It only had one problem. The lights went off automatically at 6:00 p.m. If you walked into the area at night, they would come back on for 15 minutes, and then go off automatically if no motion was detected. I often worked at night. I was doing design work or writing operational manuals on the PC and my motion was not enough to keep the lights on. Every 15 minutes, I would be plunged into the dark and the air-conditioning would shut down. I would have to stand up, do a couple of jumping jacks to make the system detect me and go back to work.
Before we moved in, 25 South Front once had a cafeteria in the basement, which we called the Roach Hotel, or Rat Palace. The building was infested with rats and mice. One of my employees named Kristi was an animal lover. She could not stand the traps that were everywhere, so she replaced them with humane traps. Every day, she collected the poor little mice, took them home with her and turned them loose in the country. The cafeteria was run by a blind man. He died and the cafeteria was shut down.
Our new building did not have a cafeteria, but it did have a small snack bar with donuts, popcorn and soft drinks, candy, and snack machines. The machines were filled daily with sandwiches, soup and other food items. There were tables at booths, usually filled with lunch-time card players instead of diners. Many people carried their lunches, but there were plenty of eating places downtown for lunch. About a block away was Ho Toy’s, a Thai-Chinese restaurant, my favorite lunch spot. If I wanted Vietnamese, there was a very authentic restaurant three blocks up the street. We also had Wendy’s, MacDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and restaurants in any price class all within 5 minutes walking distance.
In addition to our regular Federal and State funds, we also had some private endowment funds to manage. These often required special reporting and controls which we monitored closely. Many of these were more trouble than they were worth, but how do you tell a donor that you really don’t want their money, especially when it is a bequest in memory of a deceased relative? Obviously you don’t tell them, and these were often given to me to supervise and monitor.
The Vocational Education Division was in charge of the vocational student organizations at the State level and supplied advisors and supervised state-level contest. These organizations included FFA, HERO, DECA, VICA, and BPA (Future Farmers of America, Homemakers, Distributive Education Clubs of America [marketing], Vocational/Industrial Clubs of America, and Business Professionals of America) These clubs were part of the Vocational education experience and all students in the programs belonged to the clubs. In addition we supervised or worked with several foundation funds and adult vocational organizations. There were fourteen accounts in all. The accounting at the state-level was handled in the Vocational Education Division for many years but the State Auditor determined that the Department was not permitted by law to handle private non-endowed funds and was directed to divest themselves of the accounts. The problem was that the advisors in the department needed reports and checks from these accounts very frequently and the cost to hand them over to a private accounting firm was prohibitive. However, there was nothing in the law that prohibited us from establishing a grant to a private individual and providing in-kind support such as an office, equipment, and computer access to that individual who would work on contract.
On several occasions, my wife Mary had come in and helped Vocational Education as a contest judge. The division knew that she knew accounting and asked me if she would be interested in the position. I approached her and she was indeed interested and took the contract for nine years. She had an office in the Department and another office in the FFA Center at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
While Mary worked there, the Internal Auditor decided that Mary’s contract was improper and that these funds belonged to the Department. Of course, this was ludicrous. The ownership of these funds belonged to national organizations with Federal Tax-ID’s and documents filed with the Secretary of State. I hesitated to get involved, but was asked for my input by Vocational Education. I gave the Comptroller the original State Auditor’s report and typed up a justification document – almost like a legal brief – to support our decision to contract. I made sure that my name and involvement was not mentioned. The Internal Auditor’s position was that since the funds were administered and housed in the Department, they became state property. I pointed out in the brief that they were administered in an advisory, not a managerial capacity, and that they were not housed in the department, they were housed in five different banks. I also stated that taking over these funds would be tantamount to theft and would result in lawsuits by the organizations at the federal level. I lined up State Accounting and a friend in the State Auditor’s Office who rendered their opinions which supported my position. The State Treasurer also indicated that they would not accept the funds into the State Treasury. The Internal Auditor was told to back off and drop the issue. In the end Mary kept her job and the whole situation quieted down.
I always maintained a very close relationship which the Vocational Education Division which was eventually renamed to Career, Technical and Adult Education. Education at the Department was funny at times. Every five years or so, every division decided it needed to change its name. Of course this meant new letterhead and changes in the various computer programs and data files. To the divisions, it seemed a simple thing. In the world of computer files, it became a real nuisance and took many hours that could have been spent more profitably. Each year, Mary and I would serve as judges for the Financial Management Teams of the BPA for state-level competition.
In 2006, Edna Zwoll who worked with Mary in Vocational Education retired. She had worked for the Department for 58 years! She had come to work in 1948! We all went to the Japanese Steak House to celebrate. Edna had worked so long for the state, that she could have retired on full salary. So in effect, she was working for free. But, she didn’t want to retire. The funny thing about Edna, was that she was an accountant, but didn’t trust the computer, so she kept a second set of accounts in hand ledgers!
In 1997, the world suddenly realized that a new millennium was soon upon us. Suddenly the entire planet began to worry. By this time, our world had become dependent on computers. But there appeared to be a major problem. To save space in data files, most dates were coded as 6 digits. Thus January 22, 1903 was coded as 012203. Suddenly, it became apparent that January 22, 2003 would also be 012203! Panic ensued. This was called the Y2K problem and swept the world. Analysts and systems experts were forecasting a major crisis on January 1, 2000. It was feared that systems all over the world would crash and plunge the nations into a depression or even cause systems shut-downs in critical facilities such as utility plants, police departments and hospitals.
Companies and government agencies quickly poured vast amounts of financial resources into converting existing files and the billions of lines of code, much written in COBOL, to handle an 8 digit date with the year being spelled out. Thus 22 January 2003 would be 01222003.
The problem soon became apparent that there were not enough computer programmers on the planet to handle the work load. Those with the most money were able to contract. Others had to find anyone in their company who had even minimum experience. They began to utilize anyone who had taken a programming class in college, reassigning them to help with the problem. Companies and government agencies worked around the clock for nearly two years.
At the end of all this fear and turmoil, the year 2000 rolled around and almost nothing happened. Life went on as usual. There were no serious disruptions of services and companies continued work as usual. Either the panic had created enough turmoil to get the problem fixed, or it really was not as serious as people thought. This will be debated until the next millennium!
Then came the year 2001 and September 11 – 9/11! I was conducting a training session on utilizing Oracle when the session was interrupted to inform us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City. We stopped the session, turned on the TV and watched in horrified disbelief as the events of the day progressed. Later that afternoon, the Governor sent all state workers who were not essential home for the remainder of the day.
In the late 1990’s the State of Ohio realized that its financial, personnel, and inventory computer systems were seriously outdated and the governor allocated funds to redesign and create an integrated new system. This project was called OAKS. The top experts in these fields were pulled together from all the state agencies to come up with the needs for the new system. I was included on the team. We outlined the needs of each agency and came up with a systems design that could work for all. This was an enormous task because each agency had its own systems that bridged into the State’s systems. We spent nearly a year in design and came up with a Request for Proposal (RFP) and a contract was sought. A number of vendors bid, and the final selection went to People Soft in 2006. The new system should be in place in 2008. I had already retired in 2004, but this selection had serious ramifications for the Department of Education.
The Department had decided that its system of silo programs was so outdated and unworkable that a new system had to be designed. I had been pushing for this redesign for 20 years and now the time had come. The U.S. Department of Education had also upgraded its systems and now had a web-accessible grants system. We needed to design a web-based system that would allow all of the approximately 700 school systems in Ohio to access our system.
This was a major undertaking. Because of my experience with the OAKS project, the Department formed a committee and assigned me as project manager to determine our needs. We spent approximately five months in debates and discussions and designing a system that would integrate our financials and personnel into a common data base. We sent out RFP’s and the contract was awarded to ORACLE.
We purchased Oracle 9 and soon upgraded to Oracle 11. We hired a firm from Cleveland to do the actual software modifications to adapt Oracle to governmental needs. The problem was that Oracle was designed for the commercial world and had never been used for a project at the State Level, or indeed a project to complex as ours.
One of the faults with the old system was the flat file design. Because of this it was impossible to do multi-level analysis or view a problem from different dimensions. I wanted a system that would build relationships that allowed a tripod view. I wanted to be able to analyze financial data along organizational lines, along programmatic lines, and along traditional accounting lines. To do the level of analysis I desired, it would require that codes could roll-up to various levels and analyze across the tripod. I will do my best to explain with an example.
Start with a program for Handwriting Education. This in turn is a subset of the Language Development curriculum which in turn is part of the English curriculum. Thus Handwriting rolls up to Language which rolls up to English. This is the instructional hierarchy.
- English Curriculum
- Language Development
- Handwriting Education
Now add the organizational data. The Handwriting Program is in the Curriculum Section of the School Assistance Division, which is under the direction of the School Management Director who works for the Superintendent. This is the organizational hierarchy.
- State Department of Education
- School Management Director
- School Assistance Division
- Curriculum Section
Now we will add in the traditional accounting data, using an accounting code which is under a Line Item which is in a House bill for a particular fiscal biennium. This is the disbursement hierarchy.
- Biennium (example 1964-1965)
- House Bill (example HB991)
- Line Item (example 200-501)
- Accounting Code (example 510)
- Date of Payment (Example 20031115)
The money goes to a School District, which is part of a County, which may be in a region. This is the payee hierachy
- Region (Example: South Central)
- County (Example: Scioto)
- School District (Example: Rolling Hill Local)
I wanted a design that would cross link all codes and hierarchies so I could analyze many slices of the pie. For instance:
- How much was spent to Marion City Schools for all programs for House Bill 199 for year 2006?
- How much money has been sent to Marion County for account code 501 this year?
- How much money did the School Assistance Division spend in 2005?
- How much money was spent in Line Item 200-500 for Handwriting Education for the years 2000 thru 2005?
- What were the program names and the amounts budgeted for each program under the direction of the School Management Director for 2006?
As you can see, there are hundreds of possible combinations of data if the system is designed properly.
My job was to design all of the codes for the various elements. Many of these had been designed by me during the preceding years, but I also had to design and populate the various roll-up tables and relationships. The contract team designed the various tables in Oracle and I began to populate them. This entry work took nearly a year to complete. As we progressed we kept seeing additional possibilities and occasionally, a previously desired rollup or table proved to be unnecessary.
After two years, we brought the system on-line and started to produce reports on demand. We used the Oracle Reports Module but also used Crystal Reports.
Sample Crystal Report
We also brought a grants management module online which could be accessed by the school districts to request funds. This module was the brainchild of the Director of Grants Management, the Federal Assistance Division, and me. We worked closely. One of the policies of the Department had never made sense to me, and I had fought to change it for years. The other two members of the team were fairly new to the Department and when I explained why I did not like the policy, agreed immediately and decided to revise the way we managed grants. I liked the Arizona model and we adopted it. The problem that I had identified was this:
A Federal Grant lasts 24 months with a 3 month extension to close the grant, thus effectively giving the grant a 27 month life. Not all grants have this time frame. For instance, those from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have a 12 month cycle. The other problem is that the State Fiscal Year ends on June 30, and the Federal Fiscal Year on September 30. Since the State prepares a biennium budget, anyone working with Federal grants must ensure that all open and projected grants are included in the budget. The overlap requires some fairly sophisticated analysis and insight. I had prepared spreadsheets that automated this process and were used by the Department in the budgeting process. In fact, my models were used for all budgeting, both Federal and State.
Now I will explain the problem. Since it is possible during the period July thru September to spend out of three different grant years, we could pass money to a school district from three different pots. We were required at the Department Level to track each pot separately. Instead of just giving the district the money it needed and tracking the pots in-house, we told the district how much they were receiving from each grant year, and making them report their expenditures tracked to the year. This was ridiculous! To illustrate how ridiculous this was I will give an analogy.
Suppose I have three sources of income, my State Retirement, my Air Force Retirement and Social Security. I have told my son that I will give him a $50 a month allowance. Out of the State, I give him $20, out of the Air Force I give him $17, and give him the remaining $13 from my Social Security. Then I tell him what the breakdown is; require him to prepare a set of accounting books for each source and to track his expenditures accordingly! Why should he care? If he gives me a report of how much he spends, I can allocate it however I want, perhaps by a percentage formula, or by bringing the first account to zero, then applying the balance to the second, etc.
This same logic should apply to a school. If they are getting $50,000 for handwriting education, why should they care or be required to know what pot it came from? The time spent by treasurers in school districts was costing the taxpayer millions of unnecessary dollars in salary costs. My suggestion was a multi-million dollar savings to the State. This was a modification of the Arizona Model. The Arizona Model used the FIFO method of allocation, while ours used a spread allocation that maintained a constant percentage of use across the grants. The advantage of this gave consistency in the percentage amount used from each grant, making it easier to request Federal Funding based on past performance. The problem with FIFO is that the First-in grant will be spent to zero, while a later grant may be partially unused. Unused funds must be returned to the grantor.
After the Oracle System was online, it required my constant maintenance and new codes were being demanded constantly once the divisions started seeing the potential of the new system. I enjoyed this period of intense labor and knew that my design had made a difference. The silos were coming down. There was one silo still in existence that would eventually be dissolved by a new modification to the system. That was the School Foundation, not the largest in code, but the largest in expenditures. The redesigned required the rewrite of the formula by the legislature and at the time of my retirement this system was in rewrite.
Retirement Congratulations from Dr. Zelman
I had accomplished all that I had set out to do. I was satisfied with the way the system was operating. I had earned the respect of not on the Department but the State itself. I felt that I could retire. I planned to work until age 65, but with the death of my Mother and the inheriting of a home in Florida, Mary and I felt that the time had come. So in 2004, I announced my retirement to be effective the end of February. My retirement would be $45,000 per year. My Retirement from Education plus my military retirement and both mine and Mary’s social security would be over slightly over $70,000 annually. This would provide a decent living income without needing to seek additional employment.