State prosecutor investigating Prince George's schools CEO

Probe to assess dealings with education vendors

October 19, 2004|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

The Maryland state prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into dealings between the Prince George's County schools CEO and education software companies doing business with the county, a government official familiar with the inquiry said last night.

The office of state Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh has contacted schools CEO Andre J. Hornsby with questions about his interactions with education vendors, said the official, who requested anonymity.

Hornsby, who assumed the $250,000 CEO position in the spring of last year, did not return a call to his home seeking comment last night. Earlier in the evening, a school system spokeswoman declined a request for an interview with Hornsby about his dealings with vendors.

The Sun reported last week that Hornsby, 51, oversaw the purchase of $1 million in instructional software from LeapFrog SchoolHouse, a California-based company that employs a 26-year-old saleswoman who resided with Hornsby at the time of the June sale. The chairwoman of the school board said that Hornsby did not disclose the relationship prior to the sale.

Hornsby, through the system spokeswoman, said that the relationship had not influenced the purchase, which used federal Title I funds to pay for early literacy technology for low-income kindergarten students. The saleswoman, Sienna Owens, said in an interview that she was not involved in the deal and did not benefit from it. The saleswoman who the company says was assigned to the deal, Debora Adam, said she handled the sale herself and received the full commission for it, estimated to be about $40,000.

Neither woman returned calls last night seeking comment about the state prosecutor's investigation.

Expenses-paid trip

The Sun also reported that Hornsby accepted an expenses-paid 10-day trip to South Africa with the National Alliance of Black School Educators in the summer of 2003 that was paid for by Plato Learning, a Minnesota-based software company that is pursuing a districtwide contract for algebra software. The company has said it paid for Hornsby only because he was president of the educator alliance at the time, not to curry favor in Prince George's County.

School board members have said that Hornsby informed them at the time of his hiring that he was planning to go on the trip, but that he didn't say that it was paid for by Plato. Hornsby, who is no longer president of the group, went on the South Africa trip again this summer, with Owens as his guest. But system spokeswoman Kelly Alexander said yesterday that he paid for that trip himself.

Questions about Hornsby's dealings with education vendors were also raised when he was superintendent of schools in Yonkers, N.Y., between 1998 and 2000.

Yonkers inquiry

In the year after Hornsby was dismissed from that job as a result of the clashes with local officials, the Yonkers inspector general issued a report describing how Hornsby had accepted a $2,200 trip to the Ryder Cup golf tournament from the Xerox Corp. after awarding the company a $4.3 million contract.

Another inspector general report criticized Hornsby for arranging to have Apple Computer Inc. donate computers to the black educator alliance as part of an $8.4 million contract awarded to Apple in 1999.

In addition to the state prosecutor's investigation, Prince George's school board Chairwoman Beatrice Tignor said last week that she had referred questions about Hornsby's interactions with vendors to the system's ethics panel. State lawmakers have also called for a legislative audit into the county's recent vendor spending.

Withholding judgment

Other officials are withholding judgment on Hornsby's interactions with vendors based on what they know so far.

"My initial reaction based on what I've heard is that it seems like much ado about nothing," said Prince George's County Councilman Thomas R. Hendershot, a New Carrolton Democrat.

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