Money for metal detectors yet to be used: A search for $10,000

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Money for metal detectors yet to be used: A search for $10,000

Ben Korn

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After hearing complaints from parents and students about the long lines to go through the metal detectors at Wilson every morning, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh set out to solve the problem. To help alleviate the overcrowding, Cheh allocated $10,000 to the Department of General Services (DGS) to purchase additional metal detectors. Six months later, the additional metal detectors are nowhere to be found and students are still waiting in those same long lines and facing tardiness.

In her budget recommendations accompanying the $10,000 appropriation, Cheh noted that, “[Wilson] has an inadequate number of metal detectors—the school building currently has only four that are functional—for its student population of approximately 1,800.”

The budget, which passed the council and was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, included the extra money and became available on October 1st, 2017.

The blurry line that separates which repairs fall under the domain of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and what remains under DGS helps explain part of the delay. Anything that stays attached to the building (such as toilets and doors) is DGS’s responsibility, while everything that is not physically attached to the building (like desks and paper) is DCPS’. By that analysis, and because metal detectors are technically connected to the building, the $10,000 was given to DGS. But, according to DCPS officials, the money should have gone to them.

Because of this confusion, the money has remained unused for half of the school year. Although the $10,000 represents a small fraction of the DGS budget, which is upwards of 450 million dollars, the miscommunication has created long lines and a cumbersome process jeopardizing students’ attendance records. Both issues, school safety and the newly enforced DCPS attendance policy, are affected by the failed implementation of Cheh’s wishes.

“I am very disappointed that some bureaucratic dispute between two agencies is preventing Wilson students from entering the building in a timely fashion,” Cheh said. “This funding has been available for months and I intend to get an explanation as to why the metal detectors are not yet in place.”

Because the councilmember directed the money towards a specific purpose and location, that money can only be used for purchasing metal detectors for Wilson. According to an official at DGS, the money will either be transferred to DCPS, or DGS will acquire the metal detectors themselves. No timetable has been set for either option and it remains unclear when the metal detectors will be installed at Wilson.