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Board Defers Hornsby Decision

Closed Meeting Held After FBI Searches

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page B01

Two days after federal investigators searched his office and another building for evidence of possible crime, Prince George's County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby won at least a two-week reprieve yesterday from a decision on his future as the school system leader.

The Board of Education, meeting behind closed doors with Hornsby and school system attorneys, took no punitive action related to the FBI probe of the schools chief. Board leaders said they wanted to wait for the outcome of another review of Hornsby's purchasing and contract management before deciding whether he should continue to head the 136,000-student system.

Prince George's Schools Chief Andre J. Hornsby is the focus of an investigation stemming from a $1 million purchase last year of educational software. He failed to disclose that he was living with a saleswoman for the vendor, LeapFrog SchoolHouse. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)

"I've got to make sure that Dr. Hornsby gets due process," said Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) in a telephone interview before the meeting at school headquarters. "It's hard for us. He hasn't been charged with anything."

After the meeting, Tignor said in a prepared statement that the board would soon take steps to assert more control over purchasing and contracting.

Although Tignor expressed concern over the federal investigation, she said a review by Huron Consulting Group could be "far more important" as the board weighs Hornsby's future. The board hired the Chicago firm in response to controversy stemming from a $1 million purchase last year of educational software and equipment.

Hornsby failed to disclose at the time of the purchase that he was living with a saleswoman for the vendor, LeapFrog SchoolHouse of Emeryville, Calif. He later denied wrongdoing.

Board Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. (Mitchellville) echoed Tignor's assessment. "Nobody's taking this lightly. We realize the gravity of the situation, but we want to find out what the facts are," Stone said after the 2 1/2-hour meeting.

The board rejected a motion by Judy Mickens-Murray (Upper Marlboro) to place Hornsby on administrative leave, according to board members.

Seven of nine board members attended the meeting. Absent were Dean Sirjue (Bowie) and Robert O. Duncan (Laurel). The board was appointed in 2002 by the governor and county executive after the state abolished an elected board viewed as dysfunctional.

Hornsby's case is emerging as a major test for that appointed board. Critics say the schools chief should be canned.

"He's been a dismal failure, and he's had a Board of Education that's afraid to admit it made a dismal mistake," said Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's ). Hubbard's wife recently resigned as supervisor of business outreach after working more than 10 years for the school system.

Hornsby, 51, chief executive of the school system since June 2003, is nearly halfway through a four-year contract that pays a base salary of $250,000 a year. One clause in the contract allows the school board to sever his employment with a buyout worth half his annual salary.

Hornsby has not made any public statements on the investigation since the FBI action Tuesday. For the third straight day, he did not respond to a request for comment.

But Hornsby made a public appearance at Bowie High School with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) and hip-hop music mogul Russell Simmons for a morning rally to recognize student achievement.

"How do you do?" he said to a reporter as he walked into the auditorium. He stood to the side during a news conference and ducked out of the room when Steele was asked about the FBI matter.

The lieutenant governor, who lives in Prince George's, called Hornsby "a buddy" and said he had done "some very positive things" in the schools. "Whatever the probe leads to, it leads to," Steele said.

Moments later, Hornsby appeared onstage to address honor roll students who attended the rally. "The future is bright for each and every one of you," he said. "All you have to do is study hard and, at the same time, play hard."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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