Houston ISD strikes deal with feds on e-Rate investigation

Houston school board members no longer can accept unlimited contributions from technology vendors after federal regulators alleged the district violated the competitive bidding and gift-giving rules for the federal e-Rate program, reports the Houston Chronicle. The new policy, which board members discussed May 6, relates to the e-Rate, which allows school districts to apply for discounts on internet access, wiring, and other technology upgrades. Under a legal settlement with the federal government, which HISD Superintendent Terry Grier signed in March, an HISD board member must abstain from voting on e-Rate contracts if he or she has received more than $500 a year in campaign contributions from e-Rate vendors. Richard Patton, HISD’s new e-Rate compliance officer, said he is proposing a stricter policy that prohibits board members from knowingly accepting any contributions from e-Rate vendors. “We want to show good faith in letting the government know that we take this as a serious matter,” Meyers said.

The federal investigation into HISD’s e-Rate dealings stemmed from a scandal in Dallas ISD that involved vendors who also did business in Houston and contributed to some HISD trustees. As part of its settlement with federal regulators, HISD had to pay an $850,000 fine so it could begin applying for e-Rate funding again. The district lost out on at least $82 million in funding during the federal investigation…

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HISD’s online radio plans make some waves

A new internet-based radio station could generate more than $500,000 a year for the Houston Independent School District, reports the Houston Chronicle. K12RadioHouston is expected to launch in July as the first streaming station for a public school system. HISD and a media company plan to split the profits, which are estimated to reach $1 million in the first year. “You don’t need a transmitter. You don’t need a tower,” said Pat Fant, co-founder of RFC Media. “There’s not a public school district in the county that has its own full-time internet radio station.” Listeners will tune in through the HISD web site, a link in the KHOU (Channel 11) site, or via an iPhone application. While the station will be professionally run, students will have a role in producing content. Music will dominate the waves, but school performances, athletic events, and news announcements also will be broadcast. Formatting and commercials will target families of the district’s 202,000 students and 30,000 employees. While it’s an innovative revenue stream, some worry that the profit-sharing model could make children the aim of marketing at school…

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