Fire Alarm's Failure Costs Ailing District

Wilmer-Hutchins, the cash-strapped southeast Dallas County school district that faces a state investigation of financial mismanagement, continues to dig into its pockets to keep its high school open.

Since Tuesday, the district has been paying the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department $400 a day to have inspectors monitor hallways and classrooms while it fixes faulty sensors and detectors on its alarm system.

The payment is in lieu of a functioning fire alarm system, said Capt. Jesse Garcia, a Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman. A fire-watch crew must be present whenever someone enters the high school.

"We don't think they the maintenance crew will be done anytime today," Garcia said Wednesday. "So as long as the system is not properly working, we'll have to be there."

Garcia said that because an alarm-maintenance company stayed late Tuesday night, the district was charged an extra $100 for overtime. By today, the district must come up with an additional $800 -- advance pay for monitoring today and tomorrow -- or the Fire-Rescue inspectors could close the high school.

Meanwhile, the high school's cafeteria remains closed until school officials can meet refrigeration and sanitation health-code standards. Lunches are being prepared at another location and brought to the high school in refrigerated trucks, said Amanda Simpson, a spokeswoman for Dallas County Health and Human Services.

Late Wednesday, Dallas County health officials announced that the refrigerators were operating at the correct temperature but that sanitation was still not up to standard.

Garcia said the district was notified in August, during its annual fire inspection, about the faulty alarm system. The high school opened Tuesday, weeks after the start of the 2004-05 school year.