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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Amid School Security System Failure, Transparency Issues Linger

Tommy Tomlinson

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system has an expensive new security system with one major flaw: It doesn’t work. And as everyone sorts through the fallout, it might reveal some things about both our previous school superintendent and our new one.

Under former superintendent Clayton Wilcox, the school system cut a deal with an Atlanta company to provide special badges to CMS faculty. The badges were supposed to let faculty members type in a code to signal an emergency on campus. The school system has already spent more than a million dollars on the badges, part of $1.75 million they pledged to spend. But despite months of testing, the badges still don’t work right.

The deal to buy the badges doesn’t smell great, either. Normally, for that much of an expense, CMS would draw up a contract that requires school board approval. But instead, the deal for the security system was made through a series of purchase orders. That’s legal, but it’s also a way to keep the deal out of the eyes of the school board – and the public.

The school board forced Wilcox to resign last summer but has never said why. But since then, there have been stories about offensive remarks Wilson made in front of school officials, and stories about a deal he made with a tech company that he later asked for a job.

Part of the task for Earnest Wilson, the new superintendent, is to clean up the mess Wilcox apparently left. But Winston wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the security system failure. He touted the system last August in a press conference about CMS’ new security measures. By then, though, the system had already failed at one school. And Winston didn’t mention the failures in public until the Charlotte Observer started asking questions about it a couple of weeks ago.

Winston is giving the security company a few more weeks to see if it can get the system working – if not, he says, CMS will try to get its money back.

That’s the way it works in politics, too. This was Winston’s first test of transparency with the public, and he doesn’t exactly get an A-plus. He could’ve and should’ve let parents know that the security system he had highlighted wasn’t working.

Above all, a school superintendent has to be a source of good and complete information to the public. And if the public can’t trust the school superintendent, they might ask for a refund, too.