News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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California Expert to Lead Disability-Research Institute

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige last week tapped Steven James Tingus to serve as the director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

In this new role, Mr. Tingus, 38, will direct research and lead initiatives with the goal of expanding the opportunities for employment and independent living for people with disabilities.

He will also serve as a top adviser to Robert Pasternack, who is the Department of Education's assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.

Mr. Tingus is a former director of resource development and public-policy director for assistive technology at the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers in Sacramento, Calif. Before that, he served as a health-care policy analyst in the office of long-term care at the California Department of Health Services.

He earned a Master of Science degree in physiology from the University of California, Davis, in 1990.

—Lisa Fine

Court Rejects Case Alleging Retaliation by Dallas District

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of a Texas man who alleged that the Dallas Independent School District filed retaliatory lawsuits against him for raising questions about district finances.

Homebuilder Richard E. Finlan contended that the district had filed civil lawsuits against him in response to actions he took to oppose a bond election, and for his raising questions about millions of dollars in tax-exempt bond funds missing from the district's books.

An inquiry led by the Texas commissioner of education did reveal financial irregularities, "but nothing like the massive frauds asserted by Finlan," the district told the Supreme Court in a brief.

In 1993, a state trial court dismissed the Dallas school district' s first lawsuit alleging that Mr. Finlan's actions amounted to "tortious interference" in the district's business dealings with a financial adviser.

But the court kept alive Mr. Finlan's countersuit. That action included allegations that in 1995, then- Dallas school board member Sandy Kress recruited new lawyers to undertake more vigorous legal actions to stifle him. The 1995 district lawsuit alleged racketeering, fraud, and civil conspiracy by Mr. Finlan.

Mr. Kress is now a key education policy adviser to President Bush.

The brief filed on behalf of the Dallas district, Mr. Kress, and others stated that district's motive for a second lawsuit against Mr. Finlan, in 1995, "was not because Finlan was a First Amendment pest but because he was trying to pick the DISD's pocket."

Mr. Finlan's own civil rights suit against the district was dismissed by a state appeals court in Texas.

The Texas Supreme Court declined to review the case earlier this year, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment on Oct. 9 to hear the appeal in Finlan v. Dallas Independent School District (Case No. 00-1940).

—Mark Walsh

Department's Record-Keeping Flawed, Inspector General Says

Weaknesses in Department of Education policies and procedures have undermined the agency's ability to maintain adequate records, its inspector general says.

In a Sept. 28 report, Inspector General Lorraine Lewis found that most staff members responsible for record-keeping have received little or no training in that area.

No comprehensive, department-wide guidance on policies and procedures for records management currently exists, the report says, and the agency in some cases has not properly determined how long records should be kept and under what conditions.

The inspector general warned that the problems identified could leave the department in the position of violating applicable laws and regulations, and that the weaknesses could also lead to other problems.

"Conducting government business without adequate documentation increases the possibility that, in time, relevant facts may be unavailable or interpretations may be distorted," the report said. "As staff members leave, information that has not been properly documented may be lost to the agency."

The Education Department concurred with the findings and recommendations contained in the report.

—Erik W. Robelen

Ed. Dept. Grants $4.8 Million For Physical Education

While the Department of Education has focused substantial attention on closing the achievement gap, a new federal grant program is trying to close the fitness gap.

The Department of Education has issued $4.8 million in grants to improve physical education in schools. The initiative was adopted last year through the department's spending bill at the behest of Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

Most of the 18 grants to districts last month ranged from about $200,000 to $400,000. For example, the Columbus public schools in Ohio received $264,000 to start a project aimed at training teachers to help students increase physical activity and wellness.

But the fate of the new initiative remains in question as some lawmakers and President Bush move to consolidate certain federal education programs. Mr. Bush's budget proposal contained no funding specifically for the physical education program.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 21, Issue 7, Page 24

Published in Print: October 17, 2001, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
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