- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

The D.C. public school system has spent millions of dollars on a new computer system to track student attendance, but its implementation has been “significantly delayed,” the latest in a series of audits into school security concluded.

D.C. Public Schools officials spent $4.5 million on a system to account for the student population on any given school day, but they blamed “prolonged budget problems and the lack of available funds” for long delays in completing the initiative, the audit released last week by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General found.

The latest finding comes at a pivotal time for the city school system, embarrassed recently after it was disclosed that some of the truancy statistics that officials reported under the federal No Child Left Behind Act were seriously flawed.

In one case, the school system reported that there were more truant students at the Luke C. Moore Academy than actually attended the school.

Several principals blamed the problem on faulty computers, human errors and miscommunication with central administration.

Overall, the school system’s statistics found that one in four students was “chronically truant” last year.

According to the audit issued by interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen, school districts with fully functional “student accountability systems” have reduced absences and tardiness and improved class attendance.

D.C. school officials have declined to comment on the problems in reporting truancy statistics. The school system also declined to issue a formal response to the audit, the Inspector General’s office said

At a recent hearing, D.C. Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey told D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, he planned to form a panel to look into the matter.

In addition to tracking student attendance, the computerized system would manage student and course enrollments, class schedules, disciplinary actions, grades, special programs, health information and standardized assessments.

Overall, the audit compared the school security practices of the D.C. schools with those in Montgomery County, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

“Our intent is to provide the D.C. [public school system] with a unique opportunity to compare and evaluate its school security program with other school jurisdictions, and possibly use the information to craft future management decisions,” the auditors wrote.

Auditors concluded that D.C. public schools budget about $230 per student for security, a higher per-student expenditure for security than any of the five other jurisdictions. Montgomery County budgets $48 per student for security, one of the lowest per-student expenditures for security among the six jurisdictions, the audit showed.

D.C. schools ranked second, behind Philadelphia, in the overall amount of money budgeted for security. The District budgets about $15 million; Philadelphia spends about $15.3 million. Philadelphia has nearly 210,000 students; D.C. schools have about 65,000 students, according to the audit.

D.C. schools also had the highest ratio of security guards to students, with one guard for every 163 students. Baltimore had the lowest, with one guard for every 697 students, the audit found.

The audit noted that D.C. schools contract out security services, while four of the five other jurisdictions have in-house security guards.

“Apart from the increased professionalism and consistency of services, in-house security services tend to have an overall positive effect on the school security climate within the schools,” auditors wrote.

The D.C. public school system also lags behind other jurisdictions in keeping track of suspension reports and incident reports submitted under the No Child Left Behind Act, the audit concluded.

“Presently, DCPS does not have a comprehensive incident reporting system to centrally record and track incidents from initiation to final disposition, which leaves many incidents unresolved for inordinate periods of time,” the audit said.

Watkins Security Agency of D.C. Inc., the current security contractor for D.C. Public Schools, is one of several bidding for the school system’s new security contract. The new contract will begin sometime after the current school year.

Opinion on Watkins’ performance has been split among city officials.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, has criticized the school system’s security under Watkins.

D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, has said he is familiar with the company’s work and hopes Watkins gets a fair chance to compete for the new contract.

The audit is the seventh of eight that the Inspector General’s office has conducted examining D.C. schools security provisions.

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