Andre J. Hornsby has had wide autonomy over purchases since becoming Prince George's County schools chief last year, despite questions about a gift and a free trip he accepted from a vendor while he was superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y.
School board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) said board members decided after reviewing the gratuities from Xerox Corp. that they didn't need to take special precautions in hiring Hornsby. "It was an allegation, not a conviction," Tignor said yesterday. "I think the board was comfortable in terms of giving him freedom to make a difference in the school system."
Hornsby was fired from Yonkers after clashing with the mayor and labor unions and before questions were raised about the gifts by that school system's inspector general. Hornsby declined to comment yesterday.
State Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) said yesterday he will ask the state's legislative auditors to look into Hornsby's dealings with vendors since he took over in Prince George's in June 2003.
"I'm sure the legislative auditors could determine whether or not there was some conflict of interest," Currie said.
The school board's ethics panel already is looking into Hornsby's dealings with vendors, following a recent Baltimore Sun report that Hornsby had traveled to South Africa in July 2003 on a trip organized by the National Alliance of Black School Educators and that his expenses were paid for by Plato Learning, a Minnesota-based company that the school system has done business with in the past and is considering giving another contract to.
The Sun also reported that Hornsby did not disclose that he lives with a saleswoman for LeapFrog, a company that in June sold about $1 million worth of software and teaching tools to Prince George's schools. The school system has bought products from LeapFrog since 2002, before Hornsby was hired.
A spokeswoman for Hornsby said he did not have to disclose his relationship with the saleswoman on his annual ethics form, filed in January, because the woman, Sienna Owens, was not then working for LeapFrog.
In Prince George's, the school board does not review all contracts but examines construction contracts worth $25,000 or more, Tignor said. Hornsby decides on purchases in consultation with other administrators on his staff, officials said.
Tignor said yesterday that when the board was thinking of hiring Hornsby in 2003, she had asked school officials in Yonkers about allegations about gratuities and was told that he had not broken any laws.
"We were not told he was involved in any criminal intent [or] fraudulent activities," Tignor said.
Tignor said she and two other board members had traveled to Yonkers to research Hornsby's background. Hornsby was fired in June 2000 after clashing with then-Mayor John D. Spencer and union leaders.
Several months after Hornsby's firing, Yonkers Inspector General Philip Zisman released a report saying that Hornsby had accepted a hand-held computer and a trip to a Massachusetts golf tournament from Xerox Corp. The Yonkers district chose Xerox over Minolta Corp. for a copying contract that would have cost the district $2 million less, the report said. In a later report, Zisman also questioned Hornsby's purchase of computers from Apple Computer Inc. in 1998. The report said Apple donated computers to the National Alliance of Black School Educators. Hornsby is a former president of the group.
At the time of the contract, Hornsby said that he had informed the Yonkers school board about the Xerox gifts and that the Minolta bid did not meet the district's needs.
Prince George's school board members said Hornsby had told them about the Yonkers accusations during his interview.
"That's one of the things that we asked him prior to him coming on: Was there anything in his background that we needed to look at that could be reviewed later on," said board member Dean Sirjue (Bowie). "He told us about it."
Bea Gordon, a former Montgomery County school board member who was hired to lead the search for a new schools chief for Prince George's last year, said yesterday that a criminal and financial background check turned up no irregularities.
"We weren't concerned once we found that the allegations were resolved and he was not found to have done anything illegal," Gordon said. "I would say that many superintendents have questions or issues raised about things like this."
State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky and state Del. James W. Hubbard, both Democrats from Prince George's, questioned the board's vetting of Hornsby's background. The lawmakers have said they would draft legislation to require school officials across the state with purchasing power to submit ethics forms to the state each year.
"It just disappoints me that our board didn't discuss this issue thoroughly with him. Or if it did and they made clear expectations and he didn't meet them, then there is indeed a problem," Pinsky said.