Arnold Viramontes, HISD's Splashy New Hire, Violated Nepotism Rules

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The Houston school district announced today it is hiring the Dallas ISD's chief of staff, Arnold Viramontes, to oversee its technology operations.

Our sister blog Unfair Park has a post up analyzing why this is big news for DISD -- Viramontes has been the superintendent's right-hand man -- and it also mentions that when Viramontes held the chief technology job in Dallas, he "came under intense criticism for having his wife Patricia, then the executive director of instructional technology services, report directly to him."

From an earlier Unfair Park report:

To the drama surrounding that position, add this latest chapter: Unfair Park (and Tawnell Hobbs and Allen Gwinn) has learned that earlier today, Patricia Viramontes was locked out of her computer and told to clean out her office. She was then escorted out by DISD security officers. As Tawnell and several Friends of Unfair Park have pointed out, IT didn't fare well in the 2008-2009 audit, with information technology among "three material weaknesses cited by auditors," as the DISD put it in its press release last month.

So, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer, is Houston getting an entertaining package deal?

"She hasn't been hired," Spencer says.

She hasn't been hired yet. You never know with these public officials who hire their wives to work under them. (To be fair, Patricia Viramontes does have long experience in the tech field.) (Update: Spencer doesn't believe it's clear enough that "hire their wives" is a joke. As explained in this item, departmental reorganizations have triggered the brouhahas.)

DISD had initially okayed a reorganization that put Patricia Viramontes's department under her husband's oversight, but an investigation later found the arrangement did violate nepotism rules.

HISD's announcement of Viramontes's new $208,575 per year (pus possible $15,000 performance bonus) gig, of course, did not mention the nepotism flap:

As Chief Technology Information Officer, Viramontes will report directly to Superintendent Terry Grier and will be tasked with guiding a major upgrade of the Houston Independent School District's network security system. Viramontes will also oversee HISD's Research and Accountability Department, a critical component in the school district's effort to ensure that policy decisions, including those affecting classrooms, are based on reliable data.

"Arnold brings a level of expertise and experience to HISD that will be invaluable as we seek to strengthen and restructure our technology operation," Grier said. "HISD taxpayers should be confident that someone of Arnold's caliber will be overseeing such an important area of this school district's work."

In Dallas, Viramontes led the creation of an electronic data warehouse that gave administrators and teachers quicker and easier access to information they rely upon to do their jobs. He said he intends to do the same for Houston.

"People need access to information that has integrity so they can make informed decisions in a timely manner," Viramontes said. The data warehouse also enabled Dallas ISD to provide parents and community members detailed student performance information, he said. In HISD, Viramontes will put systems in place to allow the district to begin generating department and school-based data performance scorecards.

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