in Houston, Texas
HISD employee double-dips with contractor to earn $187K a year; Grier: ‘Probably an ethical issue’
Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010, 05:03AM CST
By Lynn Walsh
dollar

A Houston Independent School District administrator has had a lucrative side job for at least three years -- running an education nonprofit that has a nearly $2 million contract with HISD, something Superintendent Terry Grier says is “probably an ethical issue.”

Ann Stiles’ job at HISD in recent years has been overseeing the school system program coordinated by her own group, Project GRAD Houston, which tries to prevent low-income children in HISD from dropping out of school. Project GRAD has a $1.86 million contract with the Houston district, which school trustees renewed in June.

 As HISD teacher specialist for Project GRAD, Stiles is a full-time HISD employee, earning a salary of $67,318 this year plus benefits, district spokesman Norm Uhl said.

But that’s not her only source of income. Stiles is also the executive director for Project GRAD Houston, where, according to the group’s IRS form, she earned $120,201 in 2008 and listed an average 40 hours of work per week. The total paycheck for the two jobs comes to more than $187,000 annually.

Stiles’ moonlighting was revealed Monday by Grier to school system trustees and the public. “I want to bring it to the board’s attention as it is probably an ethical issue that should be discussed,” Grier, who took over as the school system chief last September, told the group. He didn’t elaborate.

 However, school officials had previously known of Stiles’ two jobs, Uhl said, though he did not elaborate on how long the district had known. 

Asked whether an HISD employee is allowed to also work for a nonprofit that contracts with the district, Uhl said in an e-mail, “there does not appear to be a violation of any policy and it was known that she worked for the district. I just don’t think the question of the possible appearance of a conflict had been asked until now.”

Project GRAD Houston's IRS form and its Web site list HISD Trustee Paula Harris as one of the group's board members. Her name appears on the group's IRS form on the same page as the one identifying Stiles as executive director. Harris and another HISD trustee, Anna Eastman, had questioned Grier about Stiles' dual employment at the Monday meeting, but Harris did not volunteer publicly that she is a Project GRAD board member.

Stiles has submitted a resignation letter to the school district, effective Aug. 31, Uhl said. A school district staffer told the trustees Monday that the resignation had been turned in, though it was unclear exactly when it was submitted.

HISD salary records show Stiles has been a district employee since August 1993. She was initially hired as a teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, Uhl said.

The first reference to Project GRAD in Stiles’ employee file at HISD is in 1997, Uhl said, where Stiles is listed as a math teacher at the now-closed Lamar Elementary serving as a “Teacher Trainer under Project Grad.”

She began working as Project GRAD’s teacher specialist for HISD in August 2000, earning a salary of more than $40,000, Uhl said. Salary records show her HISD pay increased each year, up to the $67,318 she earned last year.

 It was not clear at press time when Stiles became an employee of the nonprofit organization Project GRAD. IRS forms for the nonprofit were available online as far back as 2006, and all three years’ forms describe Stiles as the executive director.

 Texas Watchdog called the Project GRAD Houston office number, asking for Stiles. A receptionist said Stiles was in a meeting and took a message. As of print, Stiles did not return the phone call.

HISD’s headquarters at 1800 W. 18th St. is 8.5 miles away from the Project GRAD office at 3000 Richmond -- a 25-minute drive in traffic, according to Google Maps.

According to its website, Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) Houston is part of a national program that works to increase high school graduation and college attendance rates for low-income students. The national program grew “from a scholarship program which began in partnership with (the) Houston Independent School District in 1989."

The group was founded by former Tenneco oil chief James Ketelsen and his wife, Kathryn; James Ketelsen is Project GRAD Houston's president and board chairman, while Kathryn Ketelsen is one of Harris' fellow directors. HISD named an elementary school after James Ketelsen in 2002.

 In June HISD trustees approved a renewal of the contract between the Houston district and Project GRAD Houston. The agreement for the coming school year, for $1.86 million, includes work at three high schools -- Jefferson Davis, John Reagan and Jack Yates -- and five elementary schools, Thomas Jefferson, James Ketelsen, Adele Looscan, Clemente Martinez and Sidney Sherman.

The possible addition of a ninth site, Phillis Wheatley High School in northeast Houston, prompted Grier’s mention of Stiles’ dual employment at Monday's school board meeting. The addition of Wheatley and the additional costs of $59,221 associated with it are up for approval by school trustees Thursday (agenda item D-4).

Do you think HISD should have a policy that prohibits an employee from receiving a taxpayer-funded salary from the school district while at the same time working for a business or nonprofit that contracts with the district?

Let Texas Watchdog know what you think. Contact Lynn Walsh, Lynn@TexasWatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. On Twitter, @TexasWatchdog or @Lwalsh, and follow #HISD for stories, meeting highlights and more on HISD.

Photo of stretching dollar by flickr user TruthOut.org, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Susan
Wednesday, 08/11/2010 - 10:01PM

Lynn Walsh...THANK YOU for staying on top of HISD!!! You are incredible. Everything is the tip of the iceberg. If only HISD was more transparent in their communications and business dealings!!!

system1
Wednesday, 08/11/2010 - 10:03PM

does project grad even make a difference? the Us dept of ed rates them as "uneffective" HISD could do a better job on their own and save the nearly 2M spending on PG

baucertwo
Wednesday, 08/11/2010 - 10:06PM

does grad even make a diference? the us dept of ed rates PG as "uneffective" hisd should save the money spent on PG - they can do a better job with out PG

Jennifer Peebles
Thursday, 08/12/2010 - 08:23AM

Susan, system1, baucertwo,

Thank you all for reading us and commenting here. If you have additional tips or questions about HISD (or anything else), I'm sure Lynn would welcome them at lynn@texaswatchdog.org.

Take care,

Jennifer P.

IHB2
Thursday, 08/12/2010 - 08:50AM

Grier's been on the job a year, and any competent superintendant would have vetted his top admins long before now, so why would he pick this particular time to reveal this scandal that goes back at least 5 years?

Commenter
Tuesday, 08/17/2010 - 03:00PM

This is just a sensationalized witch hunt. She immediately resigned as soon as there was a suggestion that her dual employment might be considered unethical by some. That in itself speaks volumes in terms of her dedication to education reform. Instead of putting the contract with HISD in jeopardy, she left. Terry Grier won't last long if he keeps on showboating with his over-the-top ego. Damaging the name and credibility of Project GRAD (and possibly HISD) hurts innocent students, not Stiles.

Tuesday, 08/17/2010 - 09:30PM

I'm glad that people can still think rationally despite the "guilty until proven innocent" type of tone that this article takes. She worked for HISD in a certain capacity. Should she not be paid for that work? She was an HISD employee since '93 and they knew of her dual-employment and they bring this up now? And so what if Paula Harris did not mention she was a board member? Who the heck doesn't know that already? Just because the author of this article might not have known it, doesn't mean it isn't general public knowledge. It's pretty damn hard to hide the fact that you're a board member of anything nowadays. The issue here isn't potential unethical practice by Stiles, but whether HISD is implementing the right policies. In one article, you have made grave implications against an HISD Board Trustee as well as a director of a non-profit that provides scholarships. I guess they both have it in for the district's wallet, eh? -_- Playing politics with education is something no one should be doing.

Eddie
Friday, 08/27/2010 - 09:20PM

Isn't it funny that hisd has been cutting services and teachers to schools in high need communities, yet this 'executive' has been double dipping for as long everyone can remember and it is "probably" unethical? If that is the quality of the sup imagine the ones under him and the board. See you in November.

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