- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

D.C. school system leaders want to transfer tens of thousands of dollars from the equipment and supply budgets of dozens of schools across the city to pay $1.5 million to its embattled private security firm.

The funds will be used to pay for a shortfall in the school system’s multi-million dollar contract with Watkins Security of D.C., Inc., according to budget documents.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and at least one D.C. Council member oppose the move, though school finance officials said yesterday that the transfer won’t hurt local school spending.

School security expenses came under scrutiny in a June 11 draft report by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, which said the school system has overpaid Watkins Security by as much as $8.8 million since it began employing the firm last summer.

Mr. Williams said in a letter last week to the D.C. Council that the budget transfer “raises several concerns” because it takes money from the supplies and equipment budgets of local schools.

“As a policy matter, operational funds should not be taken from local schools under any circumstances,” Mr. Williams wrote in his July 27 letter. “These funds should be used to improve the quality of student education in DCPS classrooms.”

Mr. Williams suggested the school system find money for the security contract through cuts in the school district’s central administration offices.

But school system financial officials yesterday called the transfer “an auditing issue” that does not impact local school spending.

“We’re using balances out there that haven’t been spent,” said Nicole Conley, director of budget and planning for the school system. “Schools have not experienced a decrease in their spending capacity.”

Miss Conley said the school system had a shortfall in its $14.5 million school security contract after officials removed $1.5 million from the security budget last year to pay for raises for teachers.

She said school system officials thought they could use grant money to replace the money, but later learned that there were too many strings attached to the grants.

“This (budget transfer) is to continue providing security,” Miss Conley said. “Otherwise it would have been curtailed or suspended in some cases.”

D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, who has been the council’s chief critic of the security contract, said yesterday that Mr. Williams and the council can’t stop the budget transfer.

The Ward 4 Democrat said city lawyers have ruled that the school system is permitted to transfer funds within its budget without council or mayoral approval only when elected officials are notified.

Mr. Fenty said he opposed the transfer. “The schools are cutting teachers at the same time they’re throwing money into this contract,” Mr. Fenty said, referring to 285 teacher layoffs earlier this year.

“This is a contract that the inspector general says has been wasteful, so now they’re just going to dump more money into it,” Mr. Fenty said.

Officials at Watkins Security have said that the firm has been unfairly criticized due to problems in the school system’s procurement process.

A report that the company sent to council members earlier this year disputed concerns that the school system pays too much money for the security contract.

“Jurisdictions that spend a great deal less than D.C. on school security may also suffer a much larger incidence of violence,” the Watkins report stated.

The inspector general has been conducting several audits into the school system’s security, including the background checks of security guards.

In the June 11 draft report, an inspector general’s audit found the school system had overpaid $1.2 million to $8.8 million since it began employing Watkins Security last summer.

A separate audit earlier this year also found that the school system also had overpaid its previous security contractor, MVM Inc., by as much as $11.4 million.

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