Alert System Being Dropped After Company Misses Deadline

“... some glitches are to be expected, but the problems indicate the system is not reliable. We have asked for more support from the company, and its employees have been slow in responding, even in the last month.”

by Annie Ma, The Charlotte Observer, N.C. / February 12, 2020

(TNS) — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is ending its relationship with Centegix, the company behind the $1.75 million crisis alert system that the district purchased, and will seek to recoup the more than $1 million it has already paid to the company.

Superintendent Earnest Winston said that the company was unable to meet a Feb. 10 deadline to fix the system. Features of the crisis alert system remained unreliable or non-functional, Winston said, and he added that CMS would not be a testing ground for a vendor’s product.

“After reviewing the persistent problems with Centegix, we have concluded we did not get and will not get what we have paid for,” Winston said. “Centegix has been unable to deliver what was promised and what we need, which is a security system that can comprehensively protect the whole school.”

The district will begin to work to recover the money it has spent on the system, Winston said, and it would not pay the company the remaining $600,000 that had been withheld since problems emerged with the installation.

“This is cutting-edge technology, and some glitches are to be expected,” Winston said. “But the problems indicate the system is not reliable. We have asked for more support from the company, and its employees have been slow in responding, even in the last month.”

In a statement on Twitter, the company said it had “worked in good faith with the CMS project team to accelerate testing ... to meet the February 10, 2020 deadline requested by the CMS Superintendent.”

“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 statement said.

After questions from The Observer, Winston held a news conference Jan. 10 and said the crisis alert system was not working in the schools it had been installed in. It frequently failed during testing, Winston said at the time, and sometimes did not work at all. He gave the company 30 days to resolve the issues or risk the district moving to recoup its money.

The CMS board did not sign a contract with Centegix, but Winston told county commissioners at a joint meeting last month that the district would be able to exercise a provision from the bid documents to get its money back. A district spokeswoman later clarified that he was referring to the standard terms and agreements spelled out in the invitation for bids CMS issued.

Those terms state that “goods and services that are defective in workmanship or material or otherwise not in conformity with the requirements of the contract documents may be rejected and returned at the seller’s expense.”

CMS pursued expanding the crisis alert system, even as employees raised concerns about the company and its product since at least May 2019, according to emails obtained by The Observer by a public records request. Winston spoke at Charlotte East Language Academy in August to highlight the district’s new security measures, including Centegix. Other officials conducted a demonstration of the alert system for reporters, even though the system was not fully functional at the time.

After the fatal Butler High School shooting, the county commissioners gave CMS millions of dollars to boost school security. The crisis alert system was paid for with those funds, and is designed to allow employees to trigger an alarm during emergencies by pressing a button on a card they carry with their ID badges.

Winston said that the crisis-alert system was intended to be an add-on to the district’s security plan, and that numerous other measures are in place to ensure student safety.

The purchase of the system has raised questions about board oversight of CMS spending. The district generally prohibits employees from having contact with companies seeking business or bidding on projects with the district to ensure taxpayer money is spent lawfully and to avoid the appearance of wrongdoing.

Phone logs and a calendar show that former Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and the founder of Centegix, Daniel Dooley, made phone calls to each other or scheduled appointments more than a dozen times around the time CMS was considering the company’s bid or its services.

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