Security expensive for state-run New Orleans schools

NEW ORLEANS

Providing security for state-run schools in New Orleans has been expensive.

The Guidry Group, a Texas firm hired to provide security at Louisiana Recovery District schools in New Orleans, will earn nearly $20 million for services provided during the just-completed school year. Those services included providing security at 22 operating schools, protecting vacant schools from looters and keeping watch over the contractors renovating buildings, among other things.

Guidry’s contract expires this month. New Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas said Friday that he will recommend that state officials extend the contract through July so the district can run a summer school program at a dozen sites. Vallas also will suggest offering Guidry a one-year contract starting Aug. 1, with a district security and safety chief to manage the firm and reduce costs.

The company, which hasn’t officially been offered the contract yet, has been responsive in crisis situations and has institutional knowledge of the school system, Vallas said.

“That said and done, clearly, more money was spent on Guidry than probably should have been spent had the proper controls been in place,” he said. “I’m not indicting anybody, but that’s the way it is.”

Guidry was hired on an emergency contract before the start of the 2006-07 school year because a local company was doing a poor job of providing security, officials said.

Michael Guidry, president of the Guidry Group, acknowledges that the contract was pricey, but he says it was worth it to the district.

“Does it cost a lot of money? Yes. Have we lost any children? No,” he said last week.

And protecting public school students is not an easy assignment, Guidry said.

Guidry guards have at times confiscated box cutters, notebooks with razor blades stashed between the pages even a handgun from an elementary school student, according to the firm. And, because Hurricane Katrina had forced so many families in the city to change locations, guards had to deal with neighborhood rivalries playing out in schools that had long been neglected.

And teachers weren’t immune to the tumult. One student punched a teacher in the face at Sarah T. Reed High School, according to the security firm.

“It was terrible. That’s an understatement,” Guidry said. “It’s bad now, but it’s getting better. More students want to learn. Do we still have threats? Yes. Do we still have violence? Yes. Do we still have fights, students trying to hit teachers? Yes. But . . . we don’t have the violence that we had.”

Last year, safety came in massive numbers. The Recovery District had one security guard for every 37 students. In some schools, unarmed uniformed guards, some not much older than students, stood at doors, outside classrooms and by metal detectors that students passed through.

It made for an uncomfortable atmosphere for some students, such as India Young, 21, a former John McDonogh student.

“It was mostly like a prison setting. It just didn’t make students feel comfortable,” said Young, a 2007 graduate who plans to attend Delgado Community College. “It kind of makes you feel inferior to schools like Ben Franklin and McMain because they don’t have to go through that.”

Vallas has said that though security is critically important, it should set the proper tone. He prefers a community-minded approach, such as charging parents with working as crossing guards and truancy officers, much as he did when he was schools chief in Chicago and Philadelphia.

Vallas’ plan calls for Guidry to report to the district’s safety and security chief, who will determine the scope of the firm’s work. The security chief and a staff of about two officers will help the district bring more social services, such as counselors and behavioral specialists, into the schools, he said. The district also plans to solicit community and faith-based groups to provide social services, Vallas said.

Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.timespicayune.com

– Associated Press



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