Philly schools cancel security firms' contracts

The Philadelphia School District cut its lucrative contracts with two security firms just two weeks after a 19-year-old male employee of one firm was found in a bathroom with a 15-year-old girl, the Daily News has learned.

The alleged incident took place April 30 at Gillespie Middle School in Hunting Park, district officials said.

Two weeks later, on May 9, the district severed its ties with the worker's company - We Overcome, of Overbrook - and with a second firm, Security Universal, of East Germantown.

In April, the Daily News reported that both We Overcome, with $700,000 in district contracts, and Security Universal, which had $400,000 in contracts, had been under investigation by the district's inspector general for alleged financial irregularities.

Both firms continued to work for the district until May 9, even though the inspector general had written a letter in November recommending that the district cancel its contracts with Security Universal for alleged fraud and double-billing.

The district has not said why it canceled the contracts.

But an official of Edison Schools Inc., which manages several city schools, said that Edison attorneys had been told that many of the workers didn't have criminal-background clearances on file.

In the April 30 incident at Gillespie, school police turned the man over to Philadelphia police for investigation of charges of false imprisonment and indecent exposure, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

The incident was discovered when a female teacher saw the suspect walk out of a girls' bathroom shortly after 1 p.m. at the school, on Pike Street near Pulaski Avenue.

The Daily News is withholding the man's name because he has not been charged. Philadelphia police said yesterday that they could not confirm whether they were investigating the man.

Jeffrey D. Servin, an attorney for Dwayne Ming, founder and former executive director of We Overcome, said he wasn't familiar with the bathroom incident.

We Overcome, on 68th Street near Haverford Avenue, had been investigated after employees complained they were not being paid regularly.

Several former workers say that Ming's company still owes them various amounts ranging from $500 to $1,400.

"I got tired of waiting for my pay to come," Sharon Jones, of North Philadelphia, said in an interview last week. Jones said she worked for We Overcome for three months in late 2007.

One highly placed source in the school district said last week that We Overcome had been a frequent source of concern.

"We were always getting complaints from school employees that they didn't feel comfortable about some of the community workers in the schools because they were saying they 'didn't know who the people were' and 'the faces kept changing,' " the source said.

The firms that had their contracts canceled were two of eight community-based organizations (CBOs) hired by the district in recent years to replace unionized nonteaching assistants (NTAs).

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has a pending grievance with the National Labor Relations Board over the district's hiring of CBOs.

From February 2005 to February 2007, the number of union NTAs working in the schools dropped from 405 to 242, the union says. *


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