Company: We Fixed School Safety Alarms. CMS: No, You Didn't

Feb 12, 2020

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston said Tuesday he's severing the district’s relationship with a company that sold a school panic-alarm system and that he'll try to get the district’s money back.

Superintendent Earnest Winston makes his report at Tuesday's school board meeting.
Credit ANN DOSS HELMS / WFAE

Less than three hours earlier, that same company announced it had succeeded in making the alarms work.

On Jan. 10, Winston gave Centegix an ultimatum: Get the alarm system working in 30 days. He said the panic alarms being installed in 26 schools were supposed to let employees signal emergencies and trigger lockdowns or evacuations, but they weren’t working after months of testing.

The Feb. 10 deadline date ticked by with no word from CMS. At 4:05 p.m. Tuesday, the Atlanta-based Centegix sent out a news release announcing the successful completion of the installation and testing in CMS.

"All 26 of the contracted high schools completed quality assurance testing, met all of the agreed-upon success criteria, and are ready for teacher training and deployment," the company's statement said. It said school employees have used the badges to signal more than 50 real-life emergencies, including medical crises, last week’s tornado warnings and a Jan. 15 total lockdown.

“We look forward to continuing to work with CMS,” Centegix CEO Matthew Stevens said in the statement.

But when Winston gave a report to the school board at 6:45 p.m., he told a very different story.

"We gave the company a month to resolve these issues," Winston said. "The month ended yesterday, and we still do not have a system that is reliable and delivers what was promised. Therefore, we are terminating our relationship and will seek to recover the $1.1 million we have paid to Centegix thus far."

Under Winston’s predecessor, Clayton Wilcox, CMS had agreed to pay $1.7 million to install the alert systems in 26 schools.

"We will not pay the remaining $600,000," he said.

Winston went on to give a detailed and harsh critique: A tracking system that was supposed to precisely locate employees triggering the alarms failed in multi-story buildings. The system remained unreliable and employees had been slow to respond.

"Some glitches are to be expected," he said, "but the problems we’ve had are more than glitches."

In brief comments to reporters after the school board meeting, Winston said he had not spoken with Centegix officials before making his public report. He wouldn’t discuss specifics of the so-called successes cited by the company. Nor would Winston elaborate on how he planned to get a refund.

The Centegix spokeswoman listed on the news release couldn’t be reached Tuesday night.