in Houston, Texas
Houston ISD seeks outside help in rewriting ethics policies
Thursday, Apr 19, 2012, 05:30PM CST
By Mike Cronin
HISD

Houston schools officials are working with an accounting firm to rewrite district ethics policies, Robert Moore, the Houston Independent School District inspector general, told a board committee today.

HISD board President Mike Lunceford said policy changes will occur “anywhere ethics is concerned” due to findings by the firm in a recently completed audit of the way the district buys goods and services.

That leaves open the possibility of reforming the ethics policies that apply to trustees, though the board has not shown the political will to do so. Trustee Larry Marshall -- whose own ethics are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit -- successfully persuaded his colleagues to indefinitely table a stronger board ethics policy in December.

Auditors from Null-Lairson, the Houston accounting firm that conducted the $87,500 review, concluded last month that HISD procurement processes lack transparency.

Null-Lairson’s recommendations included:

  • Simplifying HISD trustees’ conflict-of-interest policies.
  • Routinely disclosing trustees’ involvement as board members of other organizations.
  • Seeking an independent opinion whether a purchase is in the district’s best interest for contracts where a possible trustee conflict of interest exists.

The auditors’ work on HISD ethics policies will cost an additional $25,000 to $35,000, which the school board must approve, Lunceford said.

Moore also told Trustee Juliet Stipeche that the investigation she requested into documents that went missing during the audit would be completed soon.

“We expect to make a final determination within a week,” Moore said.

HISD administrators proposed a draft budget during a board meeting earlier this morning to address a projected $43.6 million deficit in the next school year.

That budget proposal would not raise property taxes, according to an HISD press release.

It also includes raises for all district teachers for the first time since the 2009-10 academic year, Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers union, said.

The proposed raises are scheduled to be presented to the board in detail in May.

Trustee Harvin Moore told Texas Watchdog that the deficit rose to $43.6 million from last month’s $34.7 million figure primarily due to the proposed teacher salary increase.

“We talked about that last time, but we didn’t have a number there yet,” Moore said.

HISD officials also withdrew a proposal to change school start times that would have saved about $1.2 million after receiving opposition from elementary school administrators and parents, according to the press release.

School board members are scheduled to adopt a final budget at their regular monthly meeting in June.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of the Houston school district's Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center by Davidramirez, used via a Creative Commons license.

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