Is school spending a family affair?

May 15, 2008 1:51:36 PM PDT
North Forest cops tangle with 13 Undercover as we uncover a new spending scandal in a school district already facing massive layoffs, school mergers and a financial hole. The Harris County DA's office is investigating possible misuse of money meant for the North Forest ISD school kids who need the help the most, children in special education.

Even if your kids don't go to school in North Forest, you pay for the education, more than $40 million last year. Now there's evidence some of the money may have been misused in a family affair.

"Explain to the parents of the kids that you are not protecting right now because you have five cars down here," we said to the North Forest ISD chief when we tried to go into the administration building and they wouldn't let us.

Confrontation in the middle of the day; North Forest school police trying to block 13 Undercover from the administration building.

"You're denying us access to the administration building of a public school district?" we asked them.

In the parking lot, you're looking at the entire on-duty patrol force of the North Forest school district, who left more than 8,000 children in 14 schools less protected because they want to arrest me.

"I suggest you open the door, chief, and let us sign in and see who we want to," we told the district's police chief.

We had gone to this northeast side school district looking for answers about the money you spend to teach the children who most need the help, the 779 North Forest kids in special education.

"Do you justify the spending of money?" we asked Dr. Ruth Watson with the district.

"Every single dime is approved," she responded.

Dr. Watson has been choosing the special education experts for the teachers and kids. The biggest contracts are then approved by the school board based on Watson's recommendation.

"I think you are a mess maker," she told us.

"How big of a mess is it?" we asked state monitor Dr. Henry Beonning

"It's pretty big," he answered.

"The kids were cheated?" we asked him.

"That's a fair assumption," he answered.

We've learned Dr. Watson's special ed program is the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Harris County DA's office.

"They won't find any wrongdoing because we are on top of our game," said Dr. Watson.

Some of her hand-picked education specialists don't like our questions, either.

"What is this, a black and white issue here you got?" said North Forest ISD consultant Willie Hall when we tried to speak with him. "You're fixing to get under my skin now, man. You know that?"

School board member Alan Provost's campaign signs claims he's standing for right, standing for our children. But he won't stand and talk to us.

"Here you go, sir," he told me as he handed me a card.

The card has his lawyer's phone number on it.

"Call my lawyer," he said.

What's behind all the controversy at North Forest ISD? Did we find the queen of nepotism? A family affair you're paying for.

"I think that's what we have. I think North Forest is made up of families," said Dr. Watson. "Could you be more specific?"

We're actually talking about her family tree; relatives benefiting from part of a $1.2 million federal grant meant for special ed children.

Take this North Forest consulting contract with a company called M&R Consulting.

"There's a company called M&R Consulting," we said to Dr. Watson. "What do they do?"

"I don't know that company," she said.

That's funny. Here's the contract that Dr. Watson approved. And when we checked the company's registered address with the county clerk, we found the address on Cypresswood Mill in Spring. You know who says it's her home, too? Dr. Watson. Maybe that will jog her memory.

"You know what? That's my niece," said Dr. Watson. "But she's not M&R Consulting. Wrong one. No, no. It's not. You got that wrong, Wayne."

The consultant is Margeaux Fisher. She's the niece. The contract claims she's got a BS in psychology and is certified in biology and computer technology. We could find no record she's certified by the Texas Education Agency.

"Investigative reporting? Get the truth and quit with all this foolishness," Dr. Watson told us as she walked away.

But first, we face off.

"Back away from me, chief," we told the district's police chief, who wouldn't let us pass.

The cops did back off when the DA's office said they wouldn't back an arrest of me. But North Forest's school board tried for weeks to block us from seeing the special education records. But you know us.

Monday night at 10pm, just how many relatives can you get on the payroll?

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