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No decision on interim Superintendent

The HISD Board of Trustees is still deciding how to proceed in the wake of Superintendent Terry Grier’s resignation.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Trustee Anna Eastman said after [Tuesday’s board] meeting that she continues to have a lot of questions about how the job-order contracts have been administered. Among other things the audit showed that the district’s Construction and Facilities Service Department wasn’t asking for detailed information about costs before writing big checks to contractors and that it was cutting up the same project into different pieces so that it could come in under the $500,000 state-mandated threshold and grant contracts without having to ask permission from that pesky school board.

“Someone’s got to be held accountable for it. There’s been too many ‘oops.’” Eastman said. “I have concerns about people with less authority in the organization taking all the responsibility. I think leadership has to take responsibility for anyone in the organization thinking that was ok or that was the right thing to do.”

As for the interim question:

“The board cannot name an interim unless we officially reassign the superintendent to other duties which he has to agree upon,” said Eastman. “It would have to be a negotiated agreement, or we would agree on a quicker termination of his contract and I don’t think the board is interested in that or the superintendent.”

Eastman said she thinks the board should concentrate on finding a new superintendent and wait till after Grier’s March 1 departure to appoint an interim. “I’d like to see a person [new superintendent] in place before the next school year. Dr. Grier started in September so basically the organization that was in place was his predecessor’s organization.” Eastman also said it was important for any new board members to be part of the process, as well as the community.

Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones thinks the board should work quickly in moving along the process for a new superintendent, but not so fast that they don’t get input from all aspects of the community to make sure that person is a good match for HISD and its demands.

As for the interim spot, Skillern-Jones said, “I don’t think it’s unanimous around the board that we not appoint one now. We have a superintendent who is out on leave. He has an acting deputy superintendent which is in place [Don Huewitt] I have some trouble with that situation as it exists. We suspect that the superintendent may be out on medical leave for a long period of time. And I have some concern about where responsibility rests in that situation.

“Does it rest with the superintendent who is physically absent or does it rest with the deputy superintendent and who gets to decide where that responsibility rests is the board? So until we have a clear cut picture of who’s responsible, who’s actually at the helm, and who we hold accountable then I’m uncomfortable with that as a situation. So I think that should be temporary. It may not be popular opinion. We’re looking at six months out of a nine-month school year. A lot of things can happen. Who do we hold accountable and in what way? “

See here and here for the background. Both Eastman and Skillern-Jones make good points, and I’m not sure myself what the best course of action is. I think it’s all right to keep Huewitt in place to run things, but the chain of command – and of accountability – needs to be established and agreed upon by all. It would also be nice to have a new Superintendent in place well before the start of the 2016 school year, for the reasons Eastman identified. Frankly, the sooner the Board can get the job search going, the better.

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4 Comments

  1. C.L. says:

    While I can respect Eastman’s concern over responsibility, I have concerns over a Board that had to rely on an internal audit to identify the fact than big project bills were being chopped up into smaller project bills to avoid them cumulatively exceeding the cap.

    I agree, someone needs to be held accountable. Sounds to me like those that need to be held accountable is Anna Eastman, et al.

  2. Ross says:

    @CL, how can you hold the Board responsible for the malfeasance of the employees? Audits are the method all boards use to determine whether the organization is following policies and procedures. The Board does not follow every little action performed by the employees of the District. There’s also the issue of actually getting valid data. I’ve talked to Anna Eastman a couple of times, and she complains that the administration is very slow to provide data to the Board.

    The employees who violated policy by splitting jobs to get them smaller need to be fired – that’s a major violation. And, I would hope the Board calls some lower level management to the carpet.

  3. C.L. says:

    @Ross. The same way lawmakers, etal, held General Shinseki, Secretary of the VA, responsible for what was happening at a clinic in Arizona.

  4. Ross says:

    @CL. the equivalent for your example would be to hold Grier responsible. And, quite frankly, holding Eastman, et al responsible for the undetected malfeasance of employees would be counterproductive if you want good board members. In every business of any size I am aware of, the Board uses audits to test whether the policies promulgated by the board or by law are followed. Expecting any board to follow every purchasing decision is unrealistic, as the volume of transactions is too large, and the amount of time is too small.