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Some Doubts About Outspoken Critic of Hornsby

By Nancy Trejos
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page C04

As Prince George's County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby faces state and federal investigations into his dealings with educational software companies, one voice has risen above all others among his critics -- that of Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's).

"What this CEO has done is taken the spotlight off what we have attempted to do to push our school system forward and has brought it backwards," Hubbard said this week.

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Some school board members and Hornsby supporters say privately that Hubbard's motives for speaking up are not so righteous, given that his wife, Susan Hubbard, is a longtime school employee who recently got caught up in a reorganization of the district's offices. Though she is still the chief of business outreach, working to form partnerships between schools and local businesses, she was one of about 40 employees whose offices were moved last month out of the district's Upper Marlboro headquarters into a less-roomy facility elsewhere.

In an interview last week, Hubbard declined to talk about his wife's employment. But in a December interview, he said his outspokenness has at times caused problems for his wife. When Hubbard reprimanded members of the now-defunct elected school board three years ago for bickering with Superintendent Iris T. Metts, his wife's job was almost eliminated, he said. He hopes Hornsby will keep his wife out of the latest debate.

"It didn't work with the last board. It's not going to work with this jerk," Hubbard said last month.

He has since toned down his language, but he certainly hasn't kept quiet. Susan Hubbard, meanwhile, would not discuss Hornsby or her job.

Hornsby is being investigated by the FBI and other authorities for some purchases, including nearly $1 million worth of products from California-based LeapFrog SchoolHouse that he bought without disclosing that he lived with Sienna Owens, a saleswoman for the company.

Owens, LeapFrog President Bob Lally and the saleswoman assigned to the Prince George's sale left the company last month after an internal probe found problems with the handling of the sales commission.

Hubbard has called on the school board to investigate the deal more thoroughly, saying this week that Hornsby is "teetering on the edge of immorality." For the most part, the board has supported Hornsby, who has said that the LeapFrog purchases were in the school system's best interest.

Hubbard said his opinions have nothing to do with his wife; he is simply fulfilling his duties as the education liaison for the state delegates representing the county in the General Assembly.

"I've been told it's my responsibility to stay on top of this," Hubbard said. "I've taken my responsibility seriously and don't let anything get in my way."

Hubbard said he is not out to get the school system and often has championed county schools. Hubbard, a lifelong Prince George's resident, graduated from the county's public schools and has a son enrolled in one of them. He has been the House delegation's education liaison for seven of the 13 years he has been a delegate. "There are a lot of good things [in the schools] to be positive about, but the CEO is not one of them," Hubbard said.

Hornsby declined to talk about Hubbard's wife because he considers it a personnel issue.

School board members are trying to limit their public comments. They weren't so quiet in November. "This is politically motivated, and some politicians in the county might have a personal agenda in going after Dr. Hornsby and [are] looking for every little incident to blow it up," board member Dean Sirjue (Bowie) said in a November interview.

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