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Ex-Houston Principal Punished Over Data

August 30, 2003

HOUSTON (AP) _ The Houston school district is docking the pay of a retired high school principal and a computer technician after a report blamed school administrators for reporting dropout data they should have known was false.

The claims that Sharpstown High School had no students drop out led to a state audit that found nearly all the Houston schools examined were vastly undercounting dropouts.

A series of internal audits and external investigations since October has shown poor record keeping districtwide and inaccurate descriptions of why students quit school. The most recent report was released Friday by the Houston Independent School District.

The Texas Education Agency had found nearly 3,000 undercounted dropouts in Houston schools. Sharpstown is the only one where officials have said someone intentionally falsified dropout figures.

As punishment, Sharpstown’s principal, Carol Wichmann, who retired in June, will lose $3,000 in salary, and the technician, Kenneth Cuadra, will be put on unpaid leave for two weeks and be reassigned to another school, a district spokesman said.

Under Rod Paige, then the district’s superintendent and now U.S. secretary of education, sharply lower dropout rates contributed to Houston’s reputation as a showcase for the ``Texas miracle″ in education, which then-Gov. George Bush cited in his presidential campaign. Paige, appointed to the national post by Bush, has acknowledged ``there probably was″ a dropout problem in Houston while he was there.

Cuadra has denied wrongdoing and plans to appeal the decision. ``This is a devastating blow to my finances,″ he told the Houston Chronicle.

Wichmann, who told The New York Times she was not authorized to comment, has said that Cuadra alone altered the records.

District Superintendent Kaye Stripling said an investigation of the misreporting found that Cuadra had not been ordered to change the dropout codes. ``While no specific directive contributed to reporting of low dropouts, a climate existed at the school that tolerated the reporting of unrealistic dropout rates,″ according to a statement by Stripling.

Paperwork signed by Wichmann in October showed that Sharpstown, a school with 1,700 students, had no dropouts in the 2000-2001 school year after earlier reports showed 30 students quit.

Based on details of the report released Friday, Executive Deputy Superintendent Abe Saavedra recommended letters of reprimand for three assistant principals and a district administrator.

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