Higley schools IT boss denies accusations - East Valley Tribune: News

Higley schools IT boss denies accusations

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Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2009 6:12 pm | Updated: 2:09 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A former Higley Unified School District information technology employee is disputing accusations by the superintendent that led to him losing his job with the district in October and being investigated by police.

Brad Niesluchowski is accused of taking school computers home to use in his home business, downloading pornography, not doing his job correctly and downloading unauthorized software that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.

In an e-mail sent Thursday, Niesluchowski, the district's former information technology director and network systems manager, said Superintendent Denise Birdwell has a "personal vendetta" against him and his wife, who used to work for the district.

"I resigned from my position because it was clear to me that the current administration was intent on making wholesale changes to the IT (information technology) department that did not include me," Niesluchowski wrote in the e-mail. "Spending a huge amount on legal expenses didn't make any sense for me. So I moved on and got another job instead. Now, weeks after I resigned, the district still owes me pay for my personal time."

After receiving the same e-mail from Niesluchowski, Birdwell told the Tribune her attorney will be talking to his attorney.

"His personal accusations are way out of line. I have no personal vendetta against him," she said. "This has been completely professional. We'll let the police investigation seek the truth."

Niesluchowski said he did not steal district computer equipment. He said the equipment he had at home was purchased for him by the district "specifically so he could conduct work at home."

The computer software program that aids in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and was downloaded throughout the Higley Unified School District was not Niesluchowski's fault, he maintains. He said "another employee inadvertently copied that program onto an image that was then copied onto other district computers."

He said he "disabled" the SETI@home program "long ago." However, "unbeknownst" to him, SETI@home "once again began to run on the computers" at four district schools.

The district has 4,947 computers, and the program was downloaded on most student and teacher computers, including new teacher laptops, Birdwell said.

Niesluchowski had been told previously by former Superintendent Joyce Lutrey to remove the software, but he never did, Birdwell said.

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers to analyze radio telescope data in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, which is what SETI stands for.

Niesluchowski said he was demoted as the technology director during the summer of 2008 "without being given any criticism related" to his performance.

There is no information in his personnel record on why he was demoted in 2008. District officials provided the East Valley Tribune with his personnel record after it was requested. An administrative improvement plan was included from the 2005-06 school year.

A $15,000 districtwide technology audit uncovered many problems within the department, which Niesluchowski said he was no longer in charge of. David Ligon took over as the technology director in 2008, and Chuck Kelly started in Higley Nov. 23 as the new director.

The problems uncovered by the audit include a network system not designed to handle the district's growth, a system in need of substantial repair and a building needed to securely house the network. There are also cabling problems and a lack of tracking inventory for technology equipment that is three years out of date.

Niesluchowski said he was no longer in charge of the department and therefore shouldn't be held responsible.

Birdwell said the estimated dollar amount to fix all of the issues caused by Niesluchowski is unknown but estimated at $1.2 million to $1.6 million. On Thursday, Birdwell said the actual cost of removing the software is about $5,000.

"The real cost came from the need to secure the network, including the implementation of a more restrictive firewall," said Birdwell in a statement to the Tribune. "There were also district resources expended and consulting fees incurred during the recent investigation. It is the misuse and missing equipment that comprise the majority of the costs. Other costs that can be calculated are electricity used for the processing, the wear and tear on computers and bandwidth to transmit the data."

Niesluchowski also said he was not active in the SETI online community.

"I never even posted on the online journal for SETI," he said. "The whole SETI concept is a smoke screen."

However, Niesluchowski, who went by NEZ in the program, was considered a "world grid runner" for the SETI competition because of the many computers he was able to install the program on under his name, Birdwell said.

A Gilbert police report involving the investigation is still not available. Sgt. Mark Marino said the report is in the "redaction process."  

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