- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

The D.C. school board has voted to continue the contract of a company that employs security guards for city schools, but ordered a review into the school system’s contracting practices.

Wednesday night’s decision by the board keeps in place the school system’s private security contract with Watkins Security of D.C. Inc., until January 2005, cutting 18 months off the $15.2 million-a-year contract that would have run through 2006.

“We’re needless to say pleased about the board’s decision and that it will allow us to continue to serve the students of the District of Columbia,” Donna Henry, spokeswoman for Watkins Security, said yesterday.

The school system has been paying Watkins through a series of short-term contracts because it never sought council approval of contracts exceeding $1 million as required by city law.

School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz cast the only dissenting vote Wednesday night, saying the company lacked sufficient experience.

Watkins officials last week sent a report to school board members to address criticisms raised during testimony at a March 29 hearing before the D.C. Council about the school system’s security arrangements.

In its report the company included a letter from Cardozo High School Principal Reginald Ballard, who first told the council that inept security guards are not fired but were reassigned to other schools, then changed his position.

“While there have been instances in the past where security guards have been transferred from one location to another, I must say that this has not been the case under the tenure of the current project manager,” Mr. Ballard wrote in an April 28 letter cited in the company’s report to the council.

During the hearing, the council was told by Eastern High School PTA Vice President Wendy Glenn Flood that security guards fraternize with students. Mrs. Flood, an outreach worker at the D.C. Jail, said she recognized one guard as former inmate, adding that the security guards generally lacked training.

Watkins officials claim that Miss Flood’s accusations centered on events that took place before the security company took over from Virginia-based MVM Inc. last summer.

“In retrospect, we did not do enough to educate the public about the changing of the guard, distinguishing [Watkins] from MVM,” an official said.

The company also is disputing concerns that the D.C. school system pay too much money for its private security contract. The Washington Times first reported that D.C. schools pay more per-student for private security officers than other urban school districts report spending for their own police forces.

“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.

School security concerns surfaced after the Feb. 2 shooting death of Ballou High School student James Richardson, 17. Police charged Thomas Boykin, another student, in the shooting. He reportedly smuggled a gun into the school.

Those concerns escalated in March when Interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen said his office was investigating “security force attendance, professionalism, background checks, certification and diversity.”

The school board’s approval of the Watkins contract means the council also will vote on the agreement. D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said yesterday that he wants to wait to find out what the city inspector general reports before voting on the Watkins contract.

“We can’t ignore the fact that the inspector general is looking not only into the contract, but into the management at the company and its use of personnel from MVM,” Mr. Fenty said. “I’m going to look over the contract closely, but I’m also going to have to consider these irregularities.”

Mr. Hamilton said his company hired hundreds of MVM guards when it took over the school security contract, which requires 343.5 full-time personnel. Mr. Hamilton said 147 employees have been replaced through April 1 because of termination, resignation, military obligation and family leave.

The board on Wednesday night asked to review all contracts that school system officials have entered into over the past three years worth at least $100,000. School board policy requires that the board review all such contracts.

“There have been very few contracts brought before this board over $100,000,” board member Robin Martin said.

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