Urban Education

September 03, 2003 1 min read

Miami Vice

The Miami-Dade County schools are counting on a former FBI agent to uncover wrongdoing and probe allegations of misconduct in the Florida district.

The 370,000-student district is the first school system in the Sunshine State to hire an inspector general to lead investigations.

Herbert Cousins Jr., who has spent more than 20 years investigating white-collar criminals, managing domestic terrorism cases, and leading undercover operations for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, assumed that role this summer. Before joining the FBI, Mr. Cousins, 55, was a Spanish teacher and an assistant principal in Omaha, Neb.

While the district pays his $140,000 annual salary, Mr. Cousins works independently and reports to the inspector general for the Florida Department of Education.

The new office will probe allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, and misconduct, whether of a criminal or administrative nature, Mr. Cousins explained in a recent interview.

“We’re going to investigate every single matter brought to our attention,” he added.

Although the inspector general’s office is a one-person operation, the district’s police force has dedicated two officers to the effort. A task force has been formed involving the local state’s attorney as well.

While Mr. Cousins confirmed last week that investigations are already under way in Miami- Dade, he would not elaborate about the subject of the inquiries.

“Every dollar we save the district could be applied to the students, who are the main reason why all the employees are here,” he said.

School board member Marta Pérez, who championed the need for an inspector general, said there’s a perception that the Miami-Dade district is plagued by cronyism and corruption. The district’s land purchases have long been criticized and led to the creation of a school construction oversight panel.

The school board has adopted tough ethics rules for conducting business and set up an ethics commission to advise the district. “We are trying to put in measures that help give the public confidence that the district is as transparent as it can be in governance,” Ms. Pérez said.

Karla Scoon Reid