Computer transfer sparks HISD investigation

January 21, 2010 5:28:33 PM PST
A principal and several employees are under investigation after computers were taken from a local school. Now we've learned the investigation is widening. As a result of allegations that include cheating, the HISD Superintendent announced that he will be temporarily ending performance pay at Key Middle School, a school that has faced problems in the past.

What began as an investigation into computers allegedly stolen from Key Middle School has morphed into a massive scandal.

HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier said, "It makes me very sad and angry that a small number of adults can set such bad examples for our students."

The district says the allegations involve six to eight employees, and possibly more. While the superintendent did not mention any specific names, we've learned the list includes former Principal Mabel Kaleb.

Aside from the computers, the allegations include misuing district funds, cheating on TAKS tests and violating federal free lunch guidelines.

"We are going to take serious any allegations of wrong-doing, not only at this school but at any school in HISD," Dr. Grier promised.

According the superintendent, one employee has been transferred from Key. Others could follow. Kaleb's attorney calls the investigation nothing but a witch hunt.

"The district began an investigation and it has morphed at least four times into different allegations against Ms. Kaleb," said Kaleb's attorney Chris Tritico. "As each allegation proved to be untrue, HISD shifted its focus into another area."

The Houston Federation of Teachers has also been critical of the investigation, saying employees have been coerced, even threatened, into making statements. Teacher's assistant Elgie Wade is one of those employees.

"We went from computers in a box in the back of a truck, me being at the school, hauling things away, and I'm like, I don't want to be a part of that, because I wasn't," Wade said.

While we've learned the Texas Education Agency has gotten involved, the superintendent says no final decisions have been made.

We're told Kaleb is on vacation while this investigation is ongoing. We're told discipline, if it is handed down, could include termination or transfers.
Remarks by Dr. Terry Grier, HISD Superintendent
January 21st Press Conference

When I became Superintendent I promised transparency. I've called you here today to tell you about an ongoing investigation involving current and former employees of Key Middle School.

I will be as transparent as I can be, given the legal constraints that go along with talking about employees who are under investigation.

This all started with an anonymous tip. Based on that, we pulled surveillance video from Key Middle School from October 31, 2009. The tape shows computers and other equipment being removed from the school, nine days before the present principal of Key started to work. One of you already has a copy of the video. If any of the rest of you would like a copy we have one available.

The investigation has lead to the discovery of other allegations such as:

  • Alleged mismanagement, including the misuse of district funds
  • Alleged cheating on the TAKS test
  • Alleged violation of federal free and reduced priced lunch regulations by selling significant amounts of food items including candy and snacks during lunch period

I have personally reported the cheating and free and reduced meal infraction allegations to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and we will cooperate fully in their investigation. We plan to share our findings on alleged misuse of funds with our local district attorney and will fully cooperate with that office.

Because of the cheating allegation, I am also putting a hold on ASPIRE Performance Pay for Key Middle School teachers until the HISD and TEA investigations are completed. That performance pay is based on data from the 2008-2009 school year and would have been paid later this month.

In my short time here in Houston I have been humbled by the wonderful work being conducted in our schools every day. There are so many good things going on in this district that it deeply saddens me to have allegations such as this cast a shadow over the Key community and over HISD.

And if the allegations of cheating are true, it makes me down right angry that a small number of adults can set such a bad example for our students and literally cheat these students out of a quality education.

There are many wonderful, dedicated teachers and employees in this district and they are to be commended and rewarded. However, those who do not have the best interests of our children at heart will have no place at HISD.

If any or all of these allegations prove to be true, I can assure you that I will take the action up to and including termination.

I will be happy to answer your questions to best of my ability given that this is an open investigation. Thank you.