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HARRIS A FINALIST TO HEAD TROUBLED ARIZONA DISTRICT

Buffalo School Superintendent James Harris, whose district is under investigation by the Erie County district attorney, reportedly is a finalist to head an Arizona district that has troubles of its own.

Harris is one of five finalists for the superintendent's post in the Scottsdale Unified School District in Arizona, according to the Scottsdale Tribune newspaper. He is competing against superintendents from California, Texas, Kansas and Washington.

School officials there were not available to comment Tuesday evening.

Scottsdale, a district with 27,000 students, has been in turmoil in recent years. The Scottsdale board bought out its last two superintendents, and in 1998 settled a $15 million bid-rigging lawsuit with the Arizona attorney general's office, according to the Scottsdale paper.

The district has been run by an interim superintendent since April.

One former employee has been indicted on felony theft charges in connection with the lawsuit, and the state has accused the district of breaking the Arizona Open Meetings Law dozens of times. The state has also imposed several conditions on the district to ensure proper conduct in purchasing, bidding and public meetings, and is monitoring the district's compliance with those conditions.

Harris did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday night.

Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark last week launched an investigation into possible irregularities in the way an $800,000 federal grant to the Buffalo School District has been handled. Clark confirmed Monday that the investigation probably will go to a grand jury.

Sheila Johnson-Moore, a project administrator in the school district's grants office, has been placed on paid administrative leave in connection with the investigation. Harris and Johnson-Moore were the only two people managing the grant, which allows for wide discretionary use of its funds.

Harris has been job-hunting since August, when the board told him that his contract to oversee Buffalo schools and its 48,000 students would not be renewed in July.

Last month, the Traverse City, Mich., school board withdrew a job offer, saying Harris had missed a deadline to accept the superintendent's post there. Harris was also recently a semifinalist to become the chief executive officer of the Detroit Public Schools, but did not make the finalist list.

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