Breach of trust

August 24, 2006

School superintendents often get in trouble because of low test scores or poor management. But former Prince George's County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby was forced to leave his job last year because of allegations of corruption that have now been spelled out in a federal indictment. Mr. Hornsby will "aggressively contest" the charges, according to his lawyer. But whatever else he may or may not have done, Mr. Hornsby destroyed the public's trust.

The most serious charges involve an alleged scheme in which Mr. Hornsby arranged for lucrative contracts to be awarded to a company that provided educational software and another company that could help secure federal funds for discounted Internet access and telecommunications services. In exchange, Mr. Hornsby was to receive kickbacks that could have topped $100,000. He now faces charges of wire and mail fraud, witness and evidence tampering, and obstruction of justice.

That's quite a reversal for the educator who took charge of Prince George's County schools in 2003. But conflict-of-interest allegations also surfaced about Mr. Hornsby's service as schools superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y., and as a senior administrator for the New York City school system. Mr. Hornsby resigned his Prince George's County post in 2005, halfway through his four-year contract, months after the suspicious contract scheme was revealed in the Sun and days before the county school board belatedly issued a highly critical audit of his activities. Among other things, the audit showed that a former live-in girlfriend of Mr. Hornsby received a commission from the school system's purchase of technology - approved by Mr. Hornsby - from her then-employer. Mr. Hornsby and the woman had denied any financial benefit from the deal. In addition to making $250,000 a year, Mr. Hornsby received a $125,000 severance payment.

The Prince George's school system has had some successes but is generally the second-lowest-performing system in the state, next to Baltimore. The tragedy of Mr. Hornsby's tenure is his betrayal of students who deserved ethically impeccable leadership.

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