Attack of the geeks

A cadre of computer whizzes plans to expose DISD's finances to the world

Fish attended a monthly meeting of the Linux users group a few weeks ago. When everyone started talking at the same time about the projects they were working on, a large group gathered around Fish's chair (apparently the equivalent of geek parliamentary procedure).

"Russell is a pretty captivating guy," Clark says. "I was interested initially from a technical point of view, because he was using free software to manage such large data sets. But then when I heard what the data was about, all the politics and everything instead of just 10 gigabytes of some corporate crap, then I got really interested."

Several members of the group quickly signed up as volunteers to help Fish with his project, guaranteeing him, he says, one of the most sophisticated technical teams anywhere in the world.

Fish, who was chief executive officer of his own successful Silicon Valley start-up firm (he sold it), knows exactly what he wants to do with the huge data set he intends to pry out of DISD.

"In the business world, every once in a while you do a physical audit. You go around and count everything and put it on the balance sheet," he says. "If you had it last year, and you don't have it this year, there are only so many options. You sold it, you gave it to somebody, you lost it, or you stole it. I don't think that has ever been done at DISD."

When he loads the DISD data into his computer, anybody will be able to call up the page and start checking on what happened to the system's nuts, bolts, and dollars.

Finlan agrees there has never been an overall consistent audit of DISD and says that if Fish succeeds in doing it on the Web, the results will make the scandals of the last year look laughably mild. The difficulty Fish will encounter, Finlan predicts, is that most of the district's financial data will turn out to be on paper, not on disk.

"When I was chasing down $54 million in missing money that the district had put in Ray Hunt's bank, all of it was on reams and reams of handwritten logs," he says.

Fish says that will be all right too. "A lot of it probably is still pencil-and-paper," he says. "One of the things we will force out into the open is the fact that a billion-dollar-a-year school district is being run on the back of an envelope.

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