Should TEA Get Its Own OIG to Investigate HISD? Are Trustees Saying OMG?

Just when the whole chief auditor whistleblower fiasco at the Houston ISD seemed like it couldn't get any more exciting, with so many accusations and counter-accusations swirling about that trustees and staff have been busy practicing their duck-and-cover drills, state Senator Paul Bettencourt decided to step into the mess. 

On Wednesday, Bettencourt (R-Houston) put out a press release calling for the expansion of state offices of the Inspector General, to put one such investigative body in the Texas Education Agency in order to "better investigate local education agencies across the state." And he specifically mentioned the HISD situation, apparently a source of inspiration for him.  

Chief Auditor Richard Patton filed a lawsuit against the district last week saying he had been retaliated against by HISD for looking into possible wrongdoing among staff and trustees. 

"Houston ISD's chief auditor [Richard Patton] was suspended for alleged misconduct shortly after he questioned trustee travel and a $1.9 billion over-budget bond issue. The board of trustees reinstated the auditor after a five-month suspension; however, all of his staff was transferred to other departments," Bettencourt said. 

Other states have successfully used Inspector General offices to root out "waste, fraud or worse," Bettencourt said, adding that it was time for Texas to consider doing the same. 

Bettencourt also mentioned Senate Education Committee testimony concerning "the Harris County Department of Education's use of taxpayer funds to subsidize business contracts from Hawaii to Maine that offer no educational benefit for Harris County students. "

And then there was the committee testimony that "Dallas County Schools had spent up to $50 million to purchase a license and implement a camera system" that downgraded their credit rating, Bettencourt's release stated. 

Texas state agencies that already incorporate Inspector General offices include Health and Human Services, the Texas Juvenile Department, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Department of Public Safety, Bettencourt said. 

Bettencourt proposes to finance the expanded enterprise by relying on savings from zero-based budgeting by other state agencies. And that does always go so well. All of which gives us something to look forward to already in the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature, starting in January.

But if you want to catch the action even sooner, you might want to attend Thursday's monthly board meeting to see if any administrators or trustees decide to talk about what's going on. Place your bets, everyone. The fun starts at 5 p.m.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing