The White House is beginning to worry about the pace at which school districts and other local government agencies are preparing their computers for the next millennium.

According to the latest report by the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, “A troubling number of institutions, especially in the elementary/secondary area, have not yet completed their assessment of systems and are lagging in remediation and testing.”

The problem isn’t likely to have a direct impact on teaching and learning, but Y2K failures could very well plague the computers used by schools to manage payrolls, student records, online curricula, and building safety systems, the report says.

Citing a Department of Education survey of more than 3,500 school districts and local education agencies, the report says only 28 percent indicated that their mission-critical systems are Y2K compliant. That number is expected to jump to 72 percent by Oct. 1 and 98 percent by Jan. 1.

In addition to school districts and local government agencies, other key groups cited by the council for their slow pace include small hospitals and small businesses.

“The real concerns now are businesses and governments that are either taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, got a late start in fixing their systems, or are projecting late-year completion dates for remaining Y2K work,” said council chairman John A. Koskinen. “These organizations are placing themselves at risk of experiencing Y2K-related failures, which only increases the need for having good contingency plans in place on Jan. 1.”

But contingency planning is another weak spot for school districts. Only 24 percent currently have contingency plans in place. The number should roughly double by Oct. 1, though that still leaves more than half of all school districts with no contingency plans as they head down the stretch.

Close to 60 percent said inadequate personnel is a primary challenge to completing Y2K work.

That’s the case for New Orleans Public Schools, a district that’s been criticized for its slow progress. A private watchdog group recently cited “numerous causes for concern” in the New Orleans public school system, primarily due to the lack of staff available for the effort.

Other key findings in the Council on Y2K Conversion report:

• Less than half of the responding school districts have written plans for achieving Y2K compliance.

• Of the state agencies that administer the Department of Agriculture’s National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, about half were Y2K compliant as of March 1. The remainder expected to be ready by summer’s end.

• Among postsecondary institutions, 30 percent report that their mission-critical systems are now Y2K compliant, and another 30 percent expect to be ready by Oct. 1, while 62 percent have completed contingency plans.

• The U.S. Department of Education completed its Y2K renovation, validation, and implementation work on all its systems last March. The department also reports that initial contingency plans for all mission-critical operations have been completed.

Besides the trouble spots pointed out by the council, the report says the country is generally “in a much better position to make the transition into the Year 2000 than was the case just a few short months ago.”

With time running out, the latest snapshot of America’s readiness finds that the nation’s banks, utilities, telecommunications, and travel industries are or will soon be Y2K ready.

U.S. Department of Education Year 2000 Reports and Publications

http://www.ed.gov/offices/OCIO/year2000/ reports.html