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Running a business on the side is standard practice at DISD. Matthew Harden made the most of it.
By D Magazine |

DALLAS SCHOOL DISTRICT EXECUTIVE SALARIES ARE MORE than competitive with local industry, yet many of DISD’s senior managers run businesses on the side. Matthew Harden, in particular, was very aggressive about outside endeavors. He has told people he was a diamond dealer before he came to the district. According to county records, he started Universal Diamonds Unlimited on Feb. 3, 1983. “It started out as a hobby,” Harden says. In 1986-87, he had an office at 4600 Greenville Plaza, where customers came to buy gold watches and diamond jewelry.

But even before that, Harden tried to augment his income. On May 27,1980, Harden and Michael Henderson, with a Pakistani named Syed Mohammed Ali, who at the time worked as an accountant at DISD, started a company called Imports International. An import/export business intended to take advantage of All’s connections in Pakistan, the business never really got off the ground. Harden says.

A year later, on March 18.1981, Harden and Henderson went into business with two other district employees. Innocent Ugo and Alfred Carr. Can, now retired, was a DISD custodian. A native of Nigeria, Ugo had worked as an accountant in federal funds at DISD since 1973; in recent years, Harden was his boss. (In May 1996, Ugo’s direct supervisor Ann Barnett recommended that Ugo’s contract be terminated. He sued, claiming he had been discriminated against because of his national origin. At a hearing before the board, Ugo was reinstated, but his lawsuit is still pending.) The four men set up a company called International Diversified Sales, which operated out of a Dallas post office box, to export hair care products, colognes, and other items to Africa. “That never really got off the ground either,” says Harden. “It was a matter of capital.”

Harden says the only other business that he tried outside the district was “network marketing,” for five or six months. That business failed as well.

Linus Wright, superintendent and Harden’s boss during the ’80s, says he didn’t know about Harden’s other businesses. Wright says he would have wanted to make sure they presented no conflicts of interest and were not done on district time. In the last seven years, Harden says, he has not pursued his entrepreneurial interests because he has spent 16 hours a day working at the district, contradicting what he had once told Gonzalez. Asked if he has any outside businesses currently. Harden says there are “none registered.”