HISD Board Approves Strengthening District’s Conflict Of Interest, Financial Ethics Policies

September 17, 2010

HISD Board of Education meetings are held at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center, 4400 West 18th St. in northwest Houston.

At the regular monthly meeting of the HISD Board of Education on Sept. 17, board trustees approved, on first reading, a stricter conflict of interest policy that will hold all HISD employees to the same standard, regardless of their salary or position within the district.

The policy will become official upon a vote at a second reading, which will occur at the Oct. 14 school board meeting.

The amended policy outlines employee guidelines regarding token items, gifts, meals and other possible conflicts of interest.  The policy forbids all employees from accepting gifts, favors, loans, services, entertainment or anything of more than token value from any HISD vendor or someone seeking to do business with the district.

Allowed are coffee mugs, key chains, caps and other trinkets. Under the amended policy, employees are prohibited from accepting meals exceeding $100 in a year from any single vendor or prospective vendor. Employees must also report meals that exceed $50.

All employees will sign a conflict of interest statement twice a year. Previously, only administrative employees above a certain pay scale were required to do so.

“This amended policy ensures that every single employee at HISD is held accountable,” said Superintendent Terry B. Grier. “By approving this change, the board is sending a clear message that HISD expects and demands the highest ethical standards.”

HISD E-rate employees, board trustees, and E-rate vendors will continue to be subject to even higher ethical and conflict of interest standards that were approved by the board earlier this year. HISD’s E-rate policy forbids employees and board trustees from accepting any gifts, meals, or anything of value from E-rate vendors and requires them to report any offers.

Trustees also approved an amendment to the district’s financial ethics policy to further promote HISD’s ethical contracting standards. The amended policy adds a “code of silence” for certain HISD staff and board members that begins at the time the district requests a proposal or bid from any company or individual seeking an award from HISD.

Individuals prohibited from communicating with potential bidders include any board member, the superintendent of schools, and any senior staff member, principal, department head, director, manager, or other district representative who has influence in the evaluation or selection process.

The period of no communication is in effect until HISD trustees have approved the bid or awarded the contract. The policy will become official upon a vote at a second reading, which will occur at the Oct. 14 board meeting.

“This amended policy enforces and strengthens HISD’s existing commitment to ethical contracting standards and supports the core initiative of HISD’s Strategic Direction to create a culture of trust, accountability and transparency,” said Board President Greg Meyers. “By adding this code of silence we are sending a clear message that the district and the board will not tolerate any fraud or financial impropriety with either district or taxpayer monies.”

A more restrictive provision approved by the board earlier this year applies to proposals or bids from E-Rate companies.  For E-Rate matters, E-Rate employees and board members shall not communicate with E-Rate vendors for a 30-day calendar period prior to the issuance of proposals or bids and continuing until the board approves the related contract, except for certain limited exceptions allowed by regulations.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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