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HISD school board suspends chief auditor

The Houston school board has suspended its chief auditor because of alleged misconduct and performance concerns.

Richard Patton, who has led investigations into fraud and misspending in the district since taking the job in 2014, declined to comment Wednesday.  The district ordered him to work from home with pay during an ongoing investigation.

He was suspended, effective March 10, according to a memorandum he received from the district’s chief human resource officer. In response to a public-records request, the Houston Chronicle received a copy of the memo Tuesday afternoon from the school district.

The board’s audit committee, made up of three of nine trustees, plans to meet Thursday and may consider naming an interim internal auditor, according to the meeting notice.

“I can’t say anything because we have an ongoing investigation,” Manuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the Houston Independent School District board, said in interview.

The internal auditor is the board’s only direct report, besides the superintendent.

The memo to Patton, approved and signed by Rodriguez, provided scant details regarding the specifics of the allegations.

“We believe it is in your best interest and that of the Houston Independent School District that you be temporarily reassigned until further notice,” according to the memo.

The memo said Patton, whose annual salary is $186,920, was banned from contacting district staff, parents and students and may not work on HISD business without approval.

Investigations conducted under Patton’s leadership uncovered several problems in the district. The reports found improper changing of student grades at a high school and possible violations of state law involving construction contracts not approved in advance by the school board.

Patton’s October 2015 review of the district’s voter-approved construction bond program found that weak supervision of contractors and insufficient competitive bidding contributed to a projected budget shortfall. The report drew strong criticism from former Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration, which blamed financial problems on higher-than-expected prices in the city’s booming construction market. Board members had mixed reactions to Patton’s bond report.

Grier hired Patton in 2010 as a compliance officer to ensure the district followed a settlement agreement with the federal government concerning a technology program known as e-rate. The government alleged former district employees received lavish gifts from technology vendors, violating the competitive bidding process.

In September 2014, the school board named Patton the chief internal auditor, tasking him with cleaning up the department after a critical external review by the Institute of Internal Auditors.

District records show that Grier awarded Patton an “effective” rating in his 2014 job evaluation when he served as chief ethics and compliance officer. The district’s public-records office did not release any evaluations for 2015.


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