- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The D.C. public school system yesterday disclosed plans to create its own internal security force by the 2007-08 school year, but until then, will continue hiring private guards under a proposed $30.3 million contract.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is asking the D.C. Council to approve an estimated $15.1 million-per-year contract for the next two years with District-based Hawk One Security to provide security guards in the city schools.

Hawk One would be the third private security contractor to work in the schools in the past five years. It would replace Watkins Security Agency of D.C. Inc. Watkins’ contract with city schools expires this summer and was not extended.

The new security contract, to be overseen by the Metropolitan Police Department, was disclosed yesterday during a joint hearing by the D.C. Council’s judiciary and education committees. It has not been approved by the D.C. Council.

The proposal to hire Hawk One has encountered some opposition from D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who said yesterday that she’s concerned about the cost of the contract.

“We are currently paying more than any other school system in the country for security — way more,” Mrs. Cafritz said. “When you look at comparable school systems, they don’t spend anywhere near this amount of money.”

Mrs. Cafritz called the proposed compensation for Hawk One “nuts.” She also said city officials should not approve a contract for longer than a year, after which the school system could take over security responsibilities.

Ed Reiskin, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the District wouldn’t have been able to find a private contractor to handle security unless city officials guaranteed at least two years on the contract.

Under recent legislation approved by the D.C. Council, oversight of the security contract will be transferred from the school system to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Mr. Reiskin said a panel of school, police and city contracting officials selected Hawk One from among three finalists, including Watkins.

Mr. Williams sent the proposed contract to the council last week. Unless council members file a disapproval resolution within the next week, the contract will automatically be approved.

The school system’s security arrangements have recently come under scrutiny by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, which has released a series of audits that uncovered numerous contracting problems.

A recent comparison of school security arrangements in the District and four cities/counties nationwide showed that the District paid $230 per student for security — more than double what school officials in Atlanta, Baltimore, Montgomery County, Philadelphia or St. Louis paid. The comparison was conducted by the Office of the Inspector General.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the council’s Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation, said she has asked that interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen review the school system’s latest security arrangements.

Meanwhile, council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, was dissatisfied with the new plans, saying that the Metropolitan Police Department “has other things to do” than oversee the school system’s security contract.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council’s Committee on the Judiciary, expressed frustration that police officials have not said how much the new oversight duties will cost or detract from other responsibilities.

Mr. Reiskin told The Washington Times after yesterday’s hearing that he was not sure whether Hawk One has had previous experience providing guards in schools.

According to the contract, city officials did not seek bids from businesses outside the District and limited the competition to companies eligible for contracts under the city’s “small business set aside market.”

Thomas Brady, the school system’s chief of business operations, said the contract with Hawk One will give school officials time to hire their own security force by July 2007.

“It’s better for children; it’s more economic and cost-effective to have the safety and security work force in-house,” he said.

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