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A privatization of district payroll services to PeopleSoft likewise drew brickbats from employees when teacher stipends and regular paychecks were delayed. When HISD contracted for accounting services with a German firm, SAP, vendors complained that payment cycles doubled and tripled.
If Bush is up for a new learning experience, his education nominee has just what the corporate doctor ordered. Paige is a strong advocate of Model-Netics, the management program pushed by retired American General CEO Hook and avidly embraced by the district at Paige's instructions in 1997.
Initially purchased from Hook's Main Events Management (MEM) for $161,000, Model-Netics is a system of 151 models made up of diagrams, catchphrases and hieroglyphiclike symbols. During the last three years, district administrators all the way down to the principals' level have gone through the 20 one-hour sessions plus 60 to 80 hours of added study. The idea is that everybody learns the same management concepts and communicates them via terms unintelligible to the uninitiated.
For instance, "The Cruel Sea" is shorthand for layoffs. "The Northbound Train" means get with the program or else. And if they forget just exactly what models like "The Tomato Plant Problem" really mean, program trainees are issued their own little Model-Netics booklets to jog memories in a pinch.
Hook also got Paige to introduce the Desk Manual Program (DMP), in which HISD employees were supposed to inventory the tasks of their jobs and create a manual that is updated during daily half-hour exercises.
"I'd love to see the man-hours that maintaining this stupid desk manual takes," teachers union leader Gayle Fallon scoffed last year. "If we totaled them, we could probably fund an entire alternative school out of it."
Paige even authorized the creation of MEM Systems Administration to oversee the district's Model-Netics and the desk manual operations. It required an entire floor of a building on Weslayan with ten employees and salary budgets of $477,128 annually.
Asked if Paige plans to install those and other Hook brainstorms at the Department of Education offices in D.C., Abbott politely directed our questions to a Bush transition team publicist.
When he's not dabbling in those esoteric management concepts, Paige tries to project a regular-guy persona, but it can be deceptive. He often drives a downscale red Honda and parks it in the marked superintendent's parking slot for public display. However, district staffers say Paige's first love is a spiffy black Mercedes, which he often parks in the spaces reserved for board members or administrators, to disguise the identity of the driver.
"I cannot believe he keeps up the little red car sham," laughs one employee who offices in the district's Taj Mahal headquarters on Richmond. "Everybody knows about the Mercedes."
With superflack Abbott likely to jump on the Northbound Train to D.C. with his boss, others at HISD are dreaming of tickets on the Cherry Blossom Special. Abbott has been collecting résumés of local hopefuls, though he won't say whether there's an undersecretary of education seat waiting in his own future.
"Ah, no, I don't know," replies Paige's golden mouthpiece. He adds, "I'm just trying to get inaugural tickets."
What do you want to bet he gets 'em?