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April 4, 1997

Huston to leave tech job

Questions arise about the accuracy of a resume of the man who directs the school district's computer program.

By Steve Friess
Review-Journal

The school district's top technology coordinator pulled himself out of the running to retain his job after questions were raised about the accuracy of his resume.

William Huston, 54, oversees the purchase, installation and networking of $30 million in computer equipment intended for classroom use.

He has worked as an outside consultant since April 1996, but Superintendent Brian Cram asked the Clark County School Board in March to appoint him to a district managerial post for $103,000 a year.

The board opted instead to open the position to all applicants, though trustees at the time expected Huston to be the leading candidate.

Huston, who gave 30 days' notice Wednesday that he is returning to Florida, said he withdrew his name following a Feb. 26 heart attack and anger over being in the "public fishbowl."

Yet a copy of Huston's resume credits him as having attended two universities, University of Nebraska and Wayne State University in Michigan.

Spokesmen for both schools said checks of Huston's name and Social Security number found no record he registered for any classes.

Huston released a statement Thursday to the Review-Journal saying he chose "not to be a part" of this story, but in an interview Wednesday he said he didn't appear in the universities' records because he had changed his name and did not have a Social Security number at that time.

Dates of attendance and degrees earned don't appear on his resume, which refers only to major emphases in computer management and computer sciences. Records clerks at both universities were uncertain whether such studies were offered in concentrations in the 1960s, when Huston would have attended.

The resume also indicates Huston worked "in various capacities" with four Florida school districts between 1985 and 1994. The resume is sketchy as to what Huston's duties were, but under Duval County Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., it states "Novell Networks."

Cary Peterson, Duval Schools general director of management information services, said he had never heard of Huston.

"I'm the MIS director here, and I know exactly what we've done," Peterson said. "He never set up a Novell Network and, if he did, it was on a very limited basis for one department. We set up our networks here; we don't usually go outside."

Linda Crowson, the computer help desk coordinator for the Pinellas County School District in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area, also questioned Huston's claim he worked with that district. Crowson, who said she has been heavily involved with her district's technology program for 20 years, said, "I've never heard of anybody like that."

Perhaps not, said computer consultant George Arnau in Jacksonville, but that may be because in Florida some school projects are handled by the county governments, not school officials. Arnau was a project manager with the ARCO Group Inc., the computer consultant and sales company where Huston was vice president until March 1996.

"Bill Huston is a very technically competent individual, and I have no doubt he could fill a role" with the Clark County School District, said Arnau, who no longer works for the ARCO Group. "He's been in industry for a very long time. He's one of the best I've ever seen, with the exception of his brother."

Huston's brother is V. Randall Huston, a longtime business associate of Huston's and a high-ranking officer with Utility Partners Inc.

Cram hired Utility Partners in 1995 to oversee the school district's technology plan, and the company sent consultant David Gillespy. Gillespy was replaced by William Huston in April 1996 after he left his position for health reasons.

Gillespy said in a December interview he felt a lot of pressure from administrators to rush technology into the classrooms to please parents asked to vote on the $643 million school bond issue that passed in November.

Huston said he is frustrated by the public scrutiny he has experienced, saying he should be judged by his record in Clark County. On his watch, he said, 6,826 computers, 103 networks and 115 file servers were installed into classrooms. He also claimed to have saved $1 million through his efforts to buy equipment and software in bulk and to standardize computer systems districtwide.

"It doesn't matter who or what Bill Huston is," he said. "I am not in the public world."

Trustee Lois Tarkanian said the possibility that Huston's background wasn't checked out by district staff is a public issue. Tarkanian was concerned in December when she discovered Utility Partners had been paid more than $140,000 for consultant services without the board formally voting to choose the firm. She voted against retaining Huston in December when Cram asked that he be kept on for a two-month contract.

Cram defended the initial hiring by insisting the board in 1995 gave him permission to "do whatever it takes" to help the district catch up on the technology front. The superintendent also defended his ongoing support for Huston amid questions about his background.

"In the main, my analysis of him was that his work had been good, his work was performed in a timely fashion and we believed he'd saved us some money," Cram said. "My judgment is based on what he'd done for us. He wasn't an unknown to us. We had some experience with him. That's always60 to 90 days through a national search.

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