- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The D.C. public school system is scrambling to get four multimillion-dollar contracts approved after discovering that the agreements were never sent to the D.C. Council as required by contracting law.

Interim schools Superintendent Elfreda Massie yesterday said she also has ordered a review of all current multimillion-dollar contracts to find out if other contracts were not processed correctly.

Under D.C. law, the school system must get D.C. Council approval for contracts worth more than $1 million.

Mrs. Massie said officials have discovered four multimillion-dollar contracts — including a $45.3 million agreement with a private security firm Watkins Security Agency of D.C. — that never received council approval.

Mrs. Massie said the school system entered the contracts before she took office, when former Superintendent Paul L. Vance resigned last year.

“I don’t know if this is the tip of the iceberg or if this is it,” said Mrs. Massie, who has announced that she, too, will leave the school system.

The Washington Times first reported that the D.C. school board would review its contract with Watkins Security following the shooting death of a student inside Ballou High School last month.

Yesterday, D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, requested a list of current multimillion-dollar contracts from the school system.

The council’s judiciary and education committees are expected to hold a joint hearing on the issue within the next two weeks.

In the case of Watkins Security, the school system already has paid the firm $6.8 million since July, according to school contracting and procurement records. However, the council was not sent a copy of the security contract until late last week.

In addition, the school system entered at least three other multimillion-dollar agreements with contractors without council approval in September.

The one-year agreements include special-education contracts with the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute for $3.6 million and with the Lincolnia Education Foundation for $4 million, according to city records.

The school system entered an agreement with Triad Health Management for $1.9 million for research services and violence prevention activities.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said he wants to know how school officials could have neglected to send the agreements to the council.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Mr. Fenty. “There is nothing they can say that would absolve them of this.

“This completely neutralizes the council’s ability to oversee contracts,” he said. “It combines all of the big issues in the school system we’re dealing with right now — their relationships with council, their procurement management and the security of the school system.”

Mrs. Massie said she, too, wants to find out why the school system failed to get D.C. Council approval. She said she is requesting information on the lapses from the school system’s office of contracting and procurement.

“I’m trying to clean up the process,” Mrs. Massie said.

On Monday, Mr. Fenty and three other D.C. Council members filed a motion of disapproval after receiving a summary of the Watkins contract.

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