Hornsby gets approval to offer tutoring services

FBI probe has no impact on state decision

March 21, 2006|By LIZ BOWIE ... | LIZ BOWIE ...,SUN REPORTER

Maryland education officials have given their approval for Andre J. Hornsby to offer federally subsidized tutoring services to local school systems even though the FBI is investigating his business dealings while he was Prince George's County schools chief.

Hornsby resigned from the county's schools last year shortly before a school system audit revealed that he had instigated the county's purchase of a $1 million contract with LeapFrog SchoolHouse. Hornsby's live-in girlfriend had received a commission from SchoolHouse after the contract went through. The audit was begun after stories in The Sun revealed a connection between SchoolHouse and Hornsby.

Hornsby's company, Quality Schools Consulting Inc., is one of many that can offer their services at individual schools in Prince George's and Baltimore. If a minimum of 10 parents sign their children up for the Quality Schools after-school tutoring program, the local school districts must allow it to operate in their schools.

In its application to the state, Hornsby's company said it was only interested in operating in those two jurisdictions. "We are just in the process of negotiating the details," Hornsby said in a phone interview. "At this point I would prefer not to make any comments on the record."

The company's address is in Mitchellville. The phone number on the state application is for Hornsby's cell phone.

The after-school tutoring, known as Supplemental Educational Services, is offered to children at schools that have failed to meet the federal standards under the No Child Left Behind law for at least two years in a row and that serve a high percentage of low-income children.

School systems must set aside a certain percentage of their federal funds to pay for the companies that offer the services. That amounts to $5.5 million in Prince George's County and $10.8 million in Baltimore.

State officials said they had little choice but to evaluate Quality Schools as they would any other application from a vendor and to approve the application when it met standards.

Ann Chafin, director of the program improvement and family support branch of the State Department of Education, said the state could not have denied the application based on the FBI investigation of Hornsby. "If he had been indicted there would be issues," Chafin said. "Investigation is investigation. We can't not move forward with the application because he is under investigation."

The department sought informal advice from its assistant attorney general before continuing with the process, she said.

Each company has to prove, among other things, that the tutoring has been effective in other schools, that what they teach relates to the state standards and that the staff will be qualified, according to Chafin.

The program Quality Schools will use has proved effective when it has been used by other organizations.

She said that the four people who reviewed the program gave it a 79 out of 100. A program must score a 70 to be approved.

"It is not arbitrary or capricious," Chafin said of the process. Of the 39 applications the state recently reviewed, Quality Schools was one of 11 to be approved.

Meanwhile, an FBI spokeswoman said yesterday that she cannot comment on the investigation.

Hornsby left his job with Prince George's schools in May, taking along a $125,000 severance payment, which school board members said they gave him rather than endure a legal battle.

The investigation showed that in addition to his involvement with the SchoolHouse educational software contract, he was working as a consultant while he was the schools chief and that he had deceived the board about his association with the consulting company.

"Dr. Hornsby has resigned from the PG County schools, and I am not going to second-guess the State Department of Education," said Beatrice Tignor, the school board chairwoman. She said she is sure that the state made a decision based on the application.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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