HISD Pays A Bundle To Settle Claims Of A Tainted Bid Process

The Department of Justice has announced that the Houston school district will fork over $850,000 to settle claims that its bidding process for computer services was tainted.

The Federal Communications Commission had frozen so-called "E-rate" payments to HISD in 2006 after allegations that district officials had improperly accepted dinners and gifts from E-rate vendors.

E-rate is a program where school districts use money generated by fees from telephone users for computer equipment and connection fees.

The agreement was signed yesterday, and both sides put their own spin on it.

Here's the DOJ:

The Houston Independent School District has agreed to relinquish millions of dollars in requests for federal funds and to pay a total of $850,000 as part of a civil settlement relating to allegations that the school district violated the False Claims Act in connection with the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) E-Rate program, the Justice Department announced today.

And here's HISD:

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier has signed an $850,000 settlement with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which could yield as much as $89.4 million in school technology funding awards this year alone. The funding, which comes through the federal e-rate program, will be used to improve HISD's technology infrastructure, computer networking and internet access for the district's students

HISD also announced a new hire who will oversee compliance with the program. Richard Patton, an accountant and fraud examiner, is making sure everyone knows that shenanigans are no longer allowed.

"HISD has shown incredible commitment and teamwork in order to restore this funding which is so very important for our students," he said in a statement released by HISD. "As part of that effort, the district has strengthened its gift policies to the point that any employee who deals with an e-rate vendor can't accept so much as a McDonald's hamburger."

The release also quoted HISD board president Greg Meyers saying "It is a sound business decision to settle this and move on in order to help level the digital playing field for our students."

The DOJ preferred to concentrate more on the idea that anyone who abuses the E-rate system is hurting innocent, low-income-level kids, something HISD didn't exactly harp on in its release.

"The E-Rate Program provides critical support for Internet access and wiring to the most under-served schools in the country," said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "We are committed to protecting the integrity of this important program that benefits our neediest children."

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly