in Houston, Texas
HISD takes hard stance in case of employee theft, but no legal remedy pursued against E-Rate employees
Friday, Sep 10, 2010, 04:19PM CST
By Lynn Walsh

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier and Board President Greg Meyers are speaking out against the actions of a former HISD employee, who was sentenced to prison after stealing taxpayer funds.

Grier and Meyers attended the sentencing of former HISD accounting coordinator Lydia M. Kinchen to encourage the judge “to sentence Kinchen to the maximum punishment permissible by law,” according to a district press release. Kinchen was sentenced on Wednesday to eight years in prison for stealing more than $100,000 while working for HISD, according to the Houston Chronicle.

But the district leaders’ presence in the courtroom and sharp words for Kinchen contrast with another recent case of employee wrongdoing, in which workers have not been pursued in the courts.

Kinchen stole the money in a period from November 2005 to October 2006, the same time period other HISD employees were accepting personal checks, meals, sporting event tickets and a birthday party from vendors in the federal technology program E-Rate.

HISD’s E-Rate funding was frozen in 2006 after allegations of the improper gifts led to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Communications Commission against the Houston district, which lost more than $105 million in federal technology funding.

The $850,000 settlement and the hiring of an E-Rate compliance officer put the bill at more than $1 million dollars to get past the E-rate scandal, and none of the employees have been charged with any crime.

“I want to be sure to articulate that behavior like this is not accepted at HISD,” Meyers said. “We have been very outspoken, and if anything like this does happen again you can be assured we will work hard to take the toughest legal stand.”

But HISD tried to keep the implicated employees’ identities secret, refusing a verbal request from Texas Watchdog. The district only complied after a public information request and a ruling from the Texas attorney general, whose office said the names were public under state open records law.

Texas Watchdog asked Meyers why the E-Rate employees’ wrongdoing was approached differently.

“I don’t think it is anything different,” Meyers said. “E-Rate was prior to me being on the board, but the feds are involved, and anything that can be legally pursued once they (the feds) are done, we as a board will do.”

Grier did not return a call for comment.

Do you think HISD is doing enough to punish employees for wrongdoing? Let us know what you think. Contact Lynn Walsh. E-mail or call 713-228-2850. On Twitter: @LWalsh.

Follow the latest HISD news on Twitter by searching for #HISD and following @TexasWatchdog and @LWalsh.

Photo of a judge's gavel by flickr user Joe Gratz, used via a Creative Commons license.

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