The impending replacement of the D.C. school system's security contractor has raised questions about the amount the system pays for security compared with the costs to other school districts.

Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz raised the issue when D.C. Council members announced they were considering awarding a two-year, $30.3 million contract to Hawk One Security Inc., which provides protective services at city buildings. "We are currently paying more for security than any city in the country," Cafritz told the council's education and judiciary committees last week.

She was referring to a March report by the city's interim inspector general, Austin A. Andersen, whose office examined public school security costs in Atlanta, Baltimore, Montgomery County, Philadelphia and St. Louis. In fiscal 2004, D.C. schools spent $230 per student in security costs, more than twice the next-highest amount spent by a school system in the study ($106 by Atlanta). School and police officials said they could not explain why the District's costs were higher.

The new contractor, which was recommended to the council by a panel of police and city officials, would replace Watkins Security of D.C., which was paid $45.6 million for three years. If no council member objects, the contract with Hawk One will go into effect July 1.

The fatal shooting of James Richardson, 17, at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast Washington prompted the council last summer to shift school security authority from the school system to the Police Department. The department will supervise the security guards under the new contractor and administer a security plan.

The arrangement has sparked criticism from city and school officials, who say it could create a bureaucratic mess, with police incurring costs that will have to be paid by the school system.

Cafritz said the school system is working on a plan that would bring security in-house in an effort to reduce costs after the contract with the new security firm expires in 2007. Under such a plan, the security guards would be school district employees, not contractors.