Education

Dallas Opens Integrity Office

By Jeff Archer — September 19, 2006 1 min read

The Dallas school district, which has kept federal investigators plenty busy over the past decade, has launched a new effort to root out corruption and—its leaders hope—polish the system’s tarnished image.

Michael Hinojosa

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said in an interview last week that he plans in the coming weeks to hire a leader for the Office of District Integrity, which will follow up on anonymous tips of suspected wrongdoing and coordinate reviews aimed at improving district oversight.

“[The office is] going to be proactive and look for things that are amiss, not just in the financial side of the house, but also things like testing irregularities,” said Mr. Hinojosa, who’s headed the 160,000-student system for 16 months.

Tipsters will have two ways of reporting concerns: a toll-free phone number and a Web-based tool that lets them have continuing dialogues with investigators without revealing their identities. The web tool is run by a private company, EthicsPoint, based in Portland, Ore.

The Dallas district is no stranger to scandal. Nine years ago, then-Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez was sentenced to prison for using district money for buy furniture for her home.

Last year, the FBI subpoenaed records on a major contract with a technology company that allegedly gave repeated use of a 59-foot fishing boat to the district’s top administrator for school technology.

And this month, federal prosecutors arrested a district secretary on charges of embezzling $15,000 as part of a larger, ongoing investigation of possible misuse of district credit cards by employees.

The Office of District Integrity is the latest in a series of attempts by Mr. Hinojosa to signal a new level of vigilance. In another sign, he hired a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Ms. Gonzalez to lead the district’s own probe of credit-card misuse.

“Dallas has the potential to be the best urban district in America,” Mr. Hinojosa said. “For us to do that, we need to make sure we clean up our act.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2006 edition of Education Week