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State Journal: Tightwad review; Open-records quandary

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State Comptroller John Sharp of Texas, who has made a reputation of searching for ways to twist money out of bloated state agencies and programs, has turned his magnifying glass on one of the Lone Star State's biggest bureaucracies--the Texas Education Agency.

Five auditors have been assigned to probe spending and administration in the department. A final report is expected by year's end, in time for its recommendations to be weighed by the legislature.

Officials are unsure what expenses and activities might be targeted by the frugal Mr. Sharp, who has brandished his image as a tightwad ever since having the name of his predecessor crossed out and his own name stamped atop leftover office stationery.

But T.E.A. officials seem even more eager than the comptroller for a thorough checkup.

Commissioner of Education Lionel R. Meno, who is trying to reshape the Texas school hierarchy, had already requested that the agency be one of Mr. Sharp's first victims.

In addition to spending and statutory responsibilities, Mr. Meno asked Mr. Sharp to review the agency's organizational structure and its interaction with local school districts.

"This may well be the most important audit we ever conduct,'' Mr. Sharp noted.

Mr. Sharp initially launched the Texas Performance Review to canvass state agency budgets in hopes of finding savings to counter an earlier budget deficit. The success of that effort, which uncovered vast amounts of unnecessary state costs, led him to preserve the office.

Prior to tackling the T.E.A., the review office issued management reports on the state water commission, air-control board, and high-speed rail authority.

Changing family patterns have forced Ohio officials to reconsider a 1974 law that made the files of public school students open records.

The problem, state school administrators explain, is not nosy outsiders. Instead, the availability of the records have become an issue in parental-custody battles.

Under the law, school officials are allowed to release students' names and addresses, school activities, attendance records, and graduation information. In many districts, the information can be obtained with a single phone call.

Parents have the right to deny access to the information, and many districts publish notices to remind them that the data can be kept confidential.

Even so, state officials recently recommended that the legislature change the law to insure that it not become a tool in bitter custody fights.-L.H.

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