Schools chief opts to keep principal

Dunbar official's allegations are being investigated

Lawmakers give support

February 06, 2000|By Liz Bowie and JoAnna Daemmrich | Liz Bowie and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In the wake of allegations of longstanding financial improprieties at Dunbar High School, Baltimore schools chief Robert Booker said he will keep the school's principal despite demands from East Baltimore politicians to remove her.

Booker plans to investigate allegations by Principal Joyce Jennings of past misuse of the Orleans Street school facilities, including the hiring of unneeded workers.

"After reviewing some of the concerns at Dunbar, I am convinced the principal is going to lead the school the way it needs to be led," Booker said Friday.

Booker made his decision after months of lobbying by Democratic state Del. Hattie N. Harrison, who had wanted him to get rid of Jennings. Harrison, supported by two other legislators, made her case to Booker in the fall and used her leadership of a neighborhood organization to step up the pressure.

In a statement issued jointly by Harrison, Del. Ruth Kirk and Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden on Friday, the legislators reversed themselves and gave their support to Jennings, saying they were "pleased that this situation was not allowed to fester."

McFadden said he believed it was "in the best interests of the children that we not engage in these public discussions about the running of Dunbar High School." He said he and the other legislators would concentrate their efforts on getting as much state money for Baltimore city schools as possible.

Although Jennings would not return phone calls, documents obtained by The Sun detail what she said was an attempt by Harrison and Kirk to undermine her authority and to run the school.

She alleges that a group of teachers reported to Harrison on a regular basis, an allegation that Harrison denies.

In the documents, Jennings also alleges that a series of improper activities was going on when she arrived at Dunbar in August. She outlines attempts she has made to clean up problems and to raise academic achievement. Booker said an investigation of the allegations, conducted by chief academic officer Betty Morgan and the area executive officer, is not yet complete.

The allegations are that:

Jennings found a $28,000 deficit in Dunbar's budget run up over the summer because temporary workers were kept on the payroll to take attendance, monitor the cafeteria and work in the office. In addition, more temporary workers were hired than were needed.

Booker said an analysis of the school's budget is under way.

Six vending machines owned by a secretary and her husband were being operated at the school.

Revenues from vending machines can amount to thousands of dollars each year per machine and a portion of the profits in most school systems is given to student activities.

The city school system competitively bids contracts to companies that want to put their vending machines in schools. In October 1997, Jennings' predecessor was notified that Dunbar was in violation of a contract the school system had with Coca-Cola Co., according to schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt. The machines were not removed until a year later, shortly after Jennings took over.

People other than city school staff had keys to the school building.

According to city school policy, only the principal and her assigned staff can have keys to a school. If a principal decides to give keys to anyone else, the principal must notify the central administration. It is not clear whether that occurred.

The school held a fund-raiser for the benefit of a local church without permission.

School board policy does not allow for private fund-raisers to be held in schools, although the school buildings can be used if the group pays for the cost of keeping the building open.

A salesperson was allowed to sell clothing at Dunbar during the school day, despite a policy that prohibits sales.

"These are allegations at this point," Booker said. "I had to bring an end to the speculation as to what was going to happen at Dunbar."

Booker said he made no assurances to legislators Harrison, Kirk and McFadden that any changes would be made at Dunbar. He said he did, however, make it clear that he, as the school system's chief executive officer, "is the one who decides who our principals are, not elected officials."

When asked about the decision to retain Jennings, the city's chief academic officer, Morgan, said, "We have gone about this in an objective manner in order to be fair to all concerned."

In an interview Friday, Harrison said that she knew nothing about the alleged improper activities and that her interest in having the principal removed had been misunderstood.

"I have nothing to do with the school. I run the neighborhood services center downstairs," she said. "I'm not going to tell you that I don't know people up there, but they don't report to me."

At one point in the interview she became visibly upset.

"I'm sorry. When you talk about the school, I do get dewy-eyed. My whole life has been that school.

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