Federal Auditors Say Honig Violated Calif. Conflict-of-Interest Prohibitions

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Auditors from the U.S. Education Department have accused Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig of California of violating conflict-of-interest prohibitions by using his position to financially benefit his wife's educational-consulting firm.

Mr. Honig has "engaged in a pattern of activity" aiding the Quality Education Project, a nonprofit parent-involvement organization rounded by Nancy Honig, a preliminary report by federal auditors charges.

The superintendent has vigorously disputed the allegations, calling the report "fundamentally flawed." Even so, Ms. Honig last week announced her resignation as president of the Q.E.P.

A draft report submitted to the state board of education last month says Mr. Honig's actions "adversely affected the integrity of the entire contracting process" in the state education department and violated state conflict-of-interest rules.

Because the U.S. Education Department requires states to follow their own laws in awarding federal contracts, the report calls on the state board to refund $222,590 in federal grants used to pay Q.E.P. consultants in the Sweetwater, Pasadena, and Fremont school districts.

The report alleges that Mr. Honig directed that all parent-involvement activities in the state department be coordinated through the Q.E.P.

The superintendent also ordered department staff to enter into contracts with three school districts to pay the salaries of four persons who, in effect, worked for the Q.E.P. while having their salaries paid primarily with federal funds, the report says.

Mr. Honig also "used the weight of his office to increase the prestige and influence" of the Q.E.P., according to the document.

The report says Mr. Honig derived income from the Q.E.P. through the annual salary of up to $119,000 paid to his wife, as well from the $30,000 paid by the Q.E.v. over two years to rent office space in the Honigs' home.

The draft report, prepared by the regional office of the inspector general for the U.S. Education Department, has not been formally released but was leaked to the press late last month.

Honig: Allegations 'Far-Fetched'

Mr. Honig, who has been given 30 days to respond to the audit, vowed to contest its findings. "The draft report omits or distorts crucial facts of the case, bases its conclusions on far-fetched and speculative hypotheses, and proposes remedies in conflict with federal law," Mr. Honig said in a statement.

Moreover, Mr. Honig said, "No federal money went to Q.E.P., nor did local school districts pay Q.E.P. for any services to the districts in question."

The superintendent also noted that the state Fair Political Practices Commission already has reviewed and dismissed the conflict-of-interest allegations against him.

In previous comments, Mr. Honig has argued that investigations of his activities were part of a broad conspiracy by political conservatives in the federal and state governments, the state board, and the press to undermine his authority. State officials staged a surprise raid on the Honigs' home in October in search of evidence for their probe. (See Education Week, Oct. 30, 1991.)

Ms. Honig stepped down from her Q.E.P. post effective Jan. 1.

"As long as I remain at its helm, Q.E.P.'s effectiveness will be compromised and my husband's integrity will be challenged," she said in a press release. "This in an untenable position for us all, and my resignation is the clear choice to make."

Vol. 11, Issue 16, Page 36

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