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Finance & Taxation        < Previous        Next >


How Vendors 'Grease' School Officials


Q. Our superintendent's best friend works for a finance firm. He volunteered as the head of a citizens committee to whip up support for a multi-million dollar bond issue which the superintendent really wanted. It passed. Then his firm got to handle the bonds. No doubt he made beaucoup bucks. How much do "sweetheart deals" affect school spending decisions, and how can the public stop this sort of thing?


Most states have competitive bidding requirements, and most require public officials to report campaign contributions and gifts over a certain amount.


But there are so many gray areas, ethically, that it's difficult to gauge how widespread influence peddling really is.


Is a superintendent's weekend golf outing to resort location paid for by a law firm whose client wants to do real estate business with the school district a proper move?


Is a night out on the town with spouses - a lavish dinner and theater tickets -- with the owner of a construction company, a friend of the superintendent, OK even if there's a contract coming out on a new school building?


How about accepting favors like free snow removal at your home, free magazine subscriptions, or free office supplies?


The rule is supposed to be that there should be no personal benefit to a school official for interactions with vendors and potential vendors. The ultimate benefit is supposed to be "for the kids."


But consider what's gone on recently in Dallas alone:


-- Dallas Independent School District trustee Ron Price was reported as receiving just three political donations last year totaling $25,000, all from three closely associated computer contractors, including one who gave the district's top technology boss years' worth of free sea-fishing trips and use of a 59-foot yacht. One donor was Frankie Wong, president and chief executive of Micro System Enterprises of Houston. That firm is the head company in a consortium that will reap more than 96 percent of federal technology grants that the Dallas district has applied for - $369 million in all. Price, who chaired the committee that heard the technology proposals, has said he doesn't know any of the three individuals who made the donations, according to the Dallas Morning News.


-- Dr. Mike Moses, superintendent of the Dallas district and former state commissioner of education for Texas, was revealed to be "moonlighting" with a Texas law firm, Bracewell & Patterson, being paid a consulting fee to help find a new superintendent for another school district. At the time, Moses was the highest-paid superintendent in Texas, among the highest-paid anywhere, making $337,500 plus perks last year, according to Texas education activist Donna Garner. He has said he was paid in the "tens of thousands" of dollars by the law firm. The law firm had contracts with the Dallas district worth more than $700,000, according to the Dallas Morning News.


Homework: There's a good article on ethics from the American Association of School Administrators,


By Susan Darst Williams Finance & Taxation 06 2008




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