- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz says the school system is overpaying on its multimillion-dollar contract to place security guards in city schools.

“Entirely too much money is being spent,” Mrs. Cafritz said of the school system’s three-year, $45.6 million contract with Watkins Security of D.C. Inc.

The Washington Times first reported last month that the District pays more per student to staff schools with private security guards than other large urban school districts spend per student on their own police forces.

In addition, The Times has reported that District school principals have testified that incompetent security guards are reassigned instead of fired. And a PTA official said some guards fraternize with the students they are hired to protect.

The cash-strapped school system has been paying Watkins Security on a month-by-month basis because school officials never sought D.C. Council approval, which the law requires for contracts worth more than $1 million.

School officials say they are looking for ways to save money, considering a $31.7 million deficit that prompted the school board on Tuesday to lay off 557 employees, including 285 teachers.

Mrs. Cafritz addressed the security spending during the school board meeting Tuesday.

“I know I’m going to recommend that we cut back the security budget because it’s so unnecessarily high [based upon] everything we’ve learned,” she told board members.

The D.C. Office of Inspector General on April 27 found that the city school system had overpaid its previous private security contractor, Vienna, Va.-based MVM Inc., by about $11.4 million because of a failure to seek competitive bids.

D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, yesterday called the school system’s private security arrangements “a bungled mess.”

“It’s not like the school board is all of the sudden now realizing that they’re overpaying on this contract,” he said. “They’re having to have it pointed out to them.”

Lucy Young, spokeswoman for the school system, said yesterday that interim schools Superintendent Robert C. Rice is looking for a long-term solution.

“He isn’t happy about having to do business this way,” Miss Young said.

School officials began scrutinizing security arrangements after the Feb. 2 shooting death of student James Richardson, 17, at Ballou High School in Southeast.

James was shot inside the school with a gun reportedly smuggled past security guards.

Watkins executives did not return phone calls yesterday. However, in an earlier interview, Richard Hamilton, Watkins president and former Metropolitan Police Department detective, defended the company.

Mr. Hamilton said he had dismissed more than 100 guards whose performance did not meet company standards since taking over security in D.C. schools in July. He also denied that inept guards are recycled through the school system.

“If anything is derogatory about my guards is brought to my attention, we investigate immediately,” Mr. Hamilton said. “We will take action.”

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