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Posts published in “Day: March 14, 2007

State places conservator over NFISD finances – SUPERINTENDENT FIRED

By Bobby Horn Jr and
Gilbert Hoffman
The North Forest ISD, which is under a state investigation to account for $23 million in FEMA federal funds, fired its superintendent Dr. James Simpson Thursday night during a called meeting of the Board of Trustees.
Board president Barbara Gaston told the North Forest News that the firing was “with good cause”, but that Simpson will be allowed “due process” to appeal. He was terminated without pay or completion of his $160,000 yearly contract. Trustee Charles Taylor was quoted as saying the firing was due to a lack of confidence and lack of communication from Simpson. The board was concerned about the continuation of 8 out of 11 NFISD schools not meeting state standards, and ranked academically unacceptable.
The board is planning to meet again next week, according to Gaston, to name an interim superintendent. At the present time, it is expected that Assistant Superintendent William Jones will temporarily run the district.

A Texas Education Agency representative, Ron Rowell, was present during the board deliberations, but did not participate. He told the NF News that a “conservator” will be placed by TEA in the district offices, with the authority to direct financial spending and investigate previous financial activity. It is expected that the conservator will be Henry Boening, who previously served as superintendent in Galveston and other districts, said Rowell.
According to the Texas Education Agency, North Forest received more than $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to make repairs caused by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The TEA said that North Forest has failed to show documentation indicating how another $13 million in federal funds earmarked for Allison repairs were spent.
In late February the board, by a 4-3 vote, agreed to hire an outside auditor Deloitte Financial Advisory Services to go over the accounts and determine what funds have been spent and where.
Last week, Simpson released a statement to the public to address the issue. According to Simpson, the former administration used bond money that was supposed to go toward new school construction for immediate flood repairs, with the understanding that FEMA would reimburse the district for 75% of the costs provided that the district provide documentation.
Simpson said that any inadequate documentation was done prior to his coming to the district in 2004.
Despite coming to the district after the fact, Simpson took responsibility for correcting the situation in a letter that went out to the community three days before he was fired.
“While the problem did not occur under my watch, it is my duty to ensure that the solution will,” Simpson wrote. He added that since coming to the district $10 million of bond funds have been recovered by the district. He also pledged to continue working with the TEA and Deloitte to discover any missing documentation.

Jones appointed interim head

By Gilbert Hoffman
Acting at a special called School Board meeting last Monday March 12, Assistant Superintendent William Jones was appointed acting superintendent in place of Dr. James Simpson, who was terminated earlier. The vote was 6-1, with Trustee Silvia Brooks Williams voting “no.” She said later that she felt the board should have found a candidate with more experience in educational values, not administrative.

Jones has been with the North Forest ISD for over 30
years he said, and worked closely with Simpson. He said that in the near future he would concentrate on helping ready the students for their TAKS tests in April, and work with the TEA conservator Henry Boening to solve the financial problems that exist in the district.
Jones is not new to this position. He was acting superintendent during Simpson’s 2 and 1/2 year term, when he was suspended by the board temporarily.
Also at the meeting, the board was introduced to the new TEA conservator, Henry Boening, who is a retired superintendent from Galvestion ISD. The conservator’s job will be to review all expenditures related to the FEMA and 2001 Bond monies, and see that they are properly accounted for. He is not expected to be involved in academic assessments.
Also during the meeting Monday night, there was extensive questioning of J. Paul Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of Opertions, about financial records and why they were not made available in written form at this meeting. Several members of the board complained that the administration regularly talked about the finances, but rarely provided the documents to the board to allow them to see the situation.
Johnson said he would see that the documents were presented to the board by next Monday, as requested. However, he pointed out to the North Forest News that his responsibilities did not officially include the financial matters of the district. These come under the office of the Director of Finances, Lamont Waddell.
The next meeting of the school board is scheduled for Monday night, March 19, at which time William Jones is expected to receive an interim appointment to the end of the school year.

Initiative Group seeks new solutions

By Gilbert Hoffman
A new concerned citizen’s group, known as the Healthy Schools=Healthy Communities Initiative, held two meetings last week to discuss the problems and crisis in the North Forest ISD. Over a hundred concerned parents and citizens attended each meeting. Thursday night’s meeting was held at the Police Substation on Ley Road, and Saturday’s meeting at Shadydale Elememtary.
Speakers included Sheila Jackson Lee, Senfronia Thompson, TEA’s Ron Rowell, and NFIAD board president Barbara Gaston.

Also speaking were Lester Howard, Jackie Mayhorn, Robin German Curtis, and Albert Coleman who are founders of the group.
Much of the session was informational, to the extent possible, since the TEA conservator has not started investigating the finances of the district.
Many speakers emphasized the importance of bringing the standards of the district up, so that non-acceptable schools can have improved ratings, and the students who graduate can have a first class education, as most adults in the room agreed the district provided at one time.
The initiative is actually a partnership between Northeast Beyond 2000, Superneighborhoods 47, 48, 49/50 and other educational service providers.
The Initiative Group has independently hired an education consultant, Sharon Jacobson, whose experience includes directing the non-profit school reform group Project GRAD. She will be asked to devise a strategic intervention plan that can be implemented by the group, with the cooperation of the School Board, to bring academic improvements in the next year or two.
The meeting ended with vows from the speakers and the audience that they will work together to bring about “ACE–A Community of Excellence.”
The next meeting of this group is scheduled for April 14th, according to Ms. Curtis.

Acorn Housing Ribbon Cutting March 26

NORTH FOREST– Acorn Housing Corporation will hold a ribbon cutting on Monday, March 26 at 10:00 am at their development site at 9621 Mesa Drive.
Expected to attend are Mayor Bill White and other local government officials, including councilmen and legislators.
Acorn is developing 89 new homes at Acorn Glenn Subdivision, next to the XXX school. These 3 and 4 bedroom homes have 2 or 2-1/2 baths, 1300 to 1700 square feet, with a 2 car garage on a 5000 sq. ft. lot.
Homes are priced from $101,000 to $114,000 and eligible buyers will receive assistance from the City of Houston’s Downpayment Assistance Program, a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank and other grant funds up to $19,000. Downpayments can be as low as $1000 in this program, with free homebuyer counseling a below market interest rate loans. The public is invited to the ribbon cutting, and to inspect the model homes that will be open. More information is at 713-635-7264.