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Houston Cleared of Wrongdoing In Hiring Schools Chief From Board

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The local district attorney's office has cleared the Houston school board and its new superintendent of a state panel's charges that they may have violated state law during the hiring of the superintendent.

The Texas Education Agency panel was called in earlier this year to investigate the claims of Hispanic groups that the board sidestepped state laws and district hiring policies when it tapped Roderick Paige to be the superintendent of the Houston school district.

The groups also alleged that Mr. Paige, who was a member of the school board until just before his appointment, broke a law barring members from soliciting employment with the district.

But the Harris County district attorney's office, which considered the panel's findings, announced last week that it had turned up no evidence supporting criminal activity on the part of the board or the superintendent, according to Chuck Noll, an assistant district attorney.

The board in January asked Mr. Paige to consider giving up his seat to replace the departing superintendent, Frank Petruzielo.

The state panel's report said that Mr. Paige violated the solicitation law by "effectively'' applying for the top post in the 200,000-student district before tendering his resignation.

In addition, the panel--which has no legal authority--said the board appeared to have circumvented the state's open-meeting law by secretly discussing plans to hire Mr. Paige.

The district attorney's office does not plan to comment on "the inclusiveness or exclusiveness'' of the selection process, Mr. Noll said. "We don't want to get involved in a community political dispute,'' he added.

Lawsuit Pending

Meanwhile, some Hispanics continue to question the hiring of Mr. Paige, who is black. The district's enrollment is 49 percent Hispanic and 36 percent African-American.

A lawsuit by two Hispanic groups and several individuals who are protesting the hiring process is pending in federal court.

The suit, which claims that the board shut out the public in its deliberations, seeks a permanent order barring Mr. Paige from serving as superintendent.

School officials are not commenting on the allegations until the lawsuit is resolved, said Jaime de la Isla, the associate superintendent for community affairs.

Lionel R. Meno, the Texas commissioner of education, has asked the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights to review allegations that the board violated its affirmative-action policy when it hired Mr. Paige.

Although the T.E.A. panel found no specific violation, it indicated that the board may have bypassed some of the required procedures under its affirmative-action plan.

In a related move, Commissioner Meno has revised Mr. Paige's temporary certification, which would allow him to practice without regular credentials until Feb. 1996, so that it will expire when his contract is up next June.

In a recent letter, Mr. Meno urged the school board to develop "an open and appropriate search'' for selecting a new schools chief at that time.

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