Principal signed Filipino teachers to buy, sell makeup

  • The principal at the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship High School recruited teachers to sell cosmetics.
The principal at the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
March 14, 2010|By Liz Bowie |

The principal of a Baltimore City high school recruited seven Filipino teachers on her staff to buy and resell thousands of dollars of Mary Kay cosmetics, a business arrangement the teachers entered reluctantly but felt would keep them in good standing with their boss.

Principal Janice Williams of the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship high school in West Baltimore sometimes went to the teachers' classrooms last school year to ask for their credit cards to purchase lipstick, perfume, foundation and eye makeup, according to three of the teachers, who said they never intended to use the products and were unable to resell most of them.

Williams, who is an independent sales director for Mary Kay, stood to gain financially from each transaction. Documents obtained from the school system under a Freedom of Information Act request show that she was the subject of an internal investigation last year, but it is unclear what, if any, action was taken against her. She has remained at her job at IBE.

The city school board's ethics code prohibits salaried employees from using "the prestige of their offices for their own personal gain or that of another." A violation of the rule is grounds for disciplinary action, including dismissal.

In addition, the city's school board rules state that "principals shall devote themselves exclusively to the work of the school during office hours."

Williams denied to The Baltimore Sun that she solicited teachers to sell Mary Kay, saying, "It absolutely did not happen."

"If you have information that I attempted to recruit any Filipino teachers, you are misinformed," she said, declining to comment further.

But the three Filipino teachers, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said they collectively bought more than $2,000 worth of cosmetics and provided documentation of the purchases to The Sun. The teachers said they did not want to purchase the products, and only agreed to act as Mary Kay salespeople because they believed it would put them in good favor with Williams.

"It is in our culture that if your boss asks you to do something, then you will do it," said Aileen Mercado, a Filipino teacher who is a Baltimore Teachers Union board member and has spoken with several teachers who bought the products. Seven of the 12 Filipino teachers at IBE last school year purchased Mary Kay, according to the teachers.

The city, which currently employs about 600 Filipino teachers, began hiring them five years ago when school districts were struggling to find certified teachers. The Philippines became a top source for teachers, because of its surplus of education majors and its English-speaking population. The teachers, some with years of experience, came here for better pay.

Vulnerable to exploitation
Across the nation, Filipino teachers have become victims of both the recruiters who brought them here and the failure of school systems to protect them, according to the American Federation of Teachers, which has begun a national campaign to expose some of the injustices.

"Filipino teachers are very vulnerable to pressure," Mercado said, because they must ask their principals to provide letters of support when their visas are renewed.

If they get an unfavorable performance review, their chances of remaining in the country could be hindered. "At the back of our minds, that visa thing is always hanging there," she said.

In an e-mail written to city schools CEO Andrés Alonso that was obtained by The Sun, another city principal expressed frustration in September over the school system's lack of action to discipline Williams.

"In their eyes nothing has been done as a result of their courage to expose the truth," Medfield Elementary School Principal Anthony Japzon, who is half-Filipino, wrote of several of the teachers who cooperated with the school system's legal department.

Several sources who worked with Williams said it was well known that she sold Mary Kay products because several years ago she drove a pink Mary Kay Cadillac. The Cadillac is a perk the company provides to its most successful salespeople, according to Crayton Webb, director of corporate communications for Mary Kay. Williams no longer has the car.

The Filipino teachers said Williams told them they could make good money selling the products because they could charge twice what they paid for them. But the teachers said they knew they would make no money because none of the people in their tight-knit community wanted to buy what they considered expensive cosmetics.

Williams is an independent sales director, according to Webb. Directors, he said, receive bonuses and commissions on the products that are purchased by the salespeople who work for them. Therefore, Williams would have benefited financially each time a purchase was made.

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