Education Opinion

Doors With No Locks—Locks With No Keys

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — October 02, 2007 2 min read
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$368 per night. That’s what it costs to pay for two 8-hour shifts of a security guard’s vigilance in our empty school each night. If anyone reads the daily newspaper in New Orleans, one might think that the high level of crime we endure in the Crescent City requires a special need for security in our well-stocked schools. Actually, we do have more computers, calculators, projectors, etc. than we had before Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters washed everything away. But, no one has tried to break into the school to steal anything. In fact, lots of the houses in the Treme neighborhood around McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School are still empty, gutted, and in disrepair. People are still waiting for Road Home grants and SBA loans to fix their houses. We are paying for round-the-clock security because we can’t get a lock for the front door of the school. That’s right. We have paid thousands of dollars to a security company because we can’t get a $50 lock for the front door!

Our school is the first one that was opened by the state’s Recovery School District (RSD) and subsequently transitioned to a charter school. The transfer from one agency to another agency begs the question, “How Hard Can It Be?” The Lease Agreement requires a walk-through and an agreement on work that needs to be completed before the Treme Charter School Association (TCSA), our charter group, has full possession of the building. Repairs that would put the building into pre-Katrina condition are supposed to be completed by RSD or their hired hands.

Although our school has been open since August 13, 2007, we still don’t have a key to lock the front door of the building. No one can find it. Last year, all 20+ RSD-operated schools had 24-hour security, so I guess this dilemma is no big thing to some people. I could hire a cafeteria monitor for the whole year with the money we’re paying unnecessarily for overnight security.

Today, I told the Business Manager to look in the Yellow Pages of the phone book and find a locksmith. Craftsmen such as electricians, plumbers, and locksmiths charge very high prices in New Orleans these days. Until the Lease Agreement is processed we don’t have authority to change the locks. We’ll probably have to pay for this transgression because we are putting a lock on that door this week. But, if I’m going to pay an arm and a leg for anything, at least I’ll rest easy at night knowing that we are not throwing the public’s money away while we wait for our maintenance punch list. I’ve learned that it’s always easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission, anyway.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.