Hornsby Resigns in Pr. George's

Andre J. Hornsby and the school board say Prince George's schools are making
Andre J. Hornsby and the school board say Prince George's schools are making "significant academic progress." (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005

Prince George's County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby resigned yesterday amid an FBI investigation into his stewardship of federal funds and persistent questions about his management ethics at the helm of Maryland's second-largest school system.

Hornsby resigned effective June 30, halfway through a four-year contract, and is expected to go on administrative leave within a week. He negotiated a $125,000 severance under the contract's terms, half his annual base salary.

His departure at the close of the school year once again shakes a 136,000-student system that lags in test scores behind its peers in the Washington area despite the county's growing wealth. And it leaves the system in search of its third schools chief in six years.

Hornsby, a sometimes combative executive who asserted his expertise as an educator of minority children in New York, Houston and elsewhere, pledged to improve the uneven reputation of Prince George's schools when he arrived in the majority-black county two years ago.

A state report on whether the school system has advanced on standardized test scores in elementary and middle schools is due within weeks. It is likely to be an important gauge of Hornsby's controversial tenure.

Also expected within days is an independent consultant's review of Hornsby's actions in a $1 million educational technology purchase last year and other management issues. Hornsby lived with a saleswoman for the technology company, LeapFrog SchoolHouse, at the time of the purchase.

In a joint statement released yesterday evening, the board and Hornsby said the schools chief resigned "to prevent external distractions from interfering with the significant academic progress now being made by the system." Hornsby, 51, made a low-key appearance at high school graduation exercises and at a board meeting Thursday, giving no hint of his decision to exit. He made no public appearances yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

After accepting the resignation, the Board of Education named its top personnel officer, Howard Burnett, as interim chief. Board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor, who led the search committee that picked Hornsby two years ago, said the board did not force him out.

The statement also described as "unfortunate" questions about "the propriety of certain operational issues." That, too, was an apparent reference to the federal probe and to the independent review of Hornsby's actions by Huron Consulting Group Inc. of Chicago.

In the statement, the board praised Hornsby for making "remarkable progress" in student achievement and said it has been "generally supportive" of Hornsby's policies.

In Hornsby's first year, 2003-04, test scores rose in many county schools. But the state still lists more than 70 lower-performing schools -- more than a third of the system -- as needing improvement. Raising the performance of the school system is a top priority for county leaders preoccupied with improving education and reducing crime.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), in a prepared statement, said: "I have always believed Dr. Hornsby was doing a good job. I regret he was not able to complete the work he began to improve public education in Prince George's County. The issue at point now is to find a highly qualified chief executive officer."

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