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New fine print on school contract

"No warranty" on writing software is changed after the deal is questioned.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published September 11, 2007

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox recommended it. The district's chief academic officer signed off on it. The assistant School Board attorney okayed the contract language.

But in anticipation of today's vote on whether to approve an agreement that would provide Web-based writing instruction to 10,000 students, Pinellas School Board member Janet Clark raised a crucial question:

Why was the district considering doing business with a company that wouldn't guarantee that its product would work?

Clark took her concerns to board attorney Jim Robinson on Friday, along with a copy of the license agreement between the School Board and a North Carolina company, MetaMetrics.

"No warranty," the contract read. "MetaMetrics does not warrant that the product will meet your requirements or that the operation of the software will be uninterrupted or error-free or that the software contains no defects or other errors."

That's not the language board members will find in their packets today.

Instead, they will read that the company agrees its product, MyWritingWeb, is free of manufacturing errors, including coding defects, and that it will "remedy any errors or defects as soon as reasonably possible."

The new language was substituted Monday after Robinson got in touch with officials at MetaMetrics.

"I feel a little bit better about the warranty business," Clark said late Monday. "It has improved. But I'm still not sure what we're going to be getting for our money."

According to Harry Brown, the district's deputy superintendent for curriculum and operations, the district will be spending $60,000 for a software program that aims to help 10,000 sixth- and ninth-graders see where they need to improve in their writing and help them monitor their progress.

Because the students will be answering questions drawn from science and social studies curriculum standards, Brown said, they will be increasing their knowledge in those subjects at the same time they are learning about grammar, punctuation and subject-verb agreement.

"Most of our emphasis has been on providing software programs for reading and language arts teachers," Brown said. "This program is for teachers who teach classes other than language arts."

Brown said on Friday that he had not read the contract and was unaware of the warranty's terms. But Wilcox said the terms didn't bother him.

"I've seen the software work," he said. "I've met the president and CEO of the company. He came and made a presentation at my request."

While board member Nancy Bostock said she liked the idea of incorporating writing practice into science and social studies lessons, she wondered if the district has the resources to handle another software program. She said she hopes it will be tried out in schools with lots of computers. "That's how we'll know if the software is working and whether our technology base is capable of supporting it."

But Clark had other worries. "My question is, when are teachers going to have time for this?"

Malbert Smith III, president and co-founder of MetaMetrics, estimated that about a dozen districts across the country are rolling out MyWritingWeb, though no other Florida district has purchased it. Among the districts using it, Smith said, is the 1,881-student Corinth School District in Corinth, Miss.

Board members will discuss the program at today's meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. at district headquarters.



View the meeting

Today's School Board meeting will be broadcast live on the Web site for the district's television station, WPDS-TV, Ch. 14. To view it, click on, then click on the "Watch WPDS Online" link at the bottom left. The meeting will be rebroadcast on Ch. 14 at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.


[Last modified September 10, 2007, 23:50:03]

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