Former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson violated the city’s ethics rules when she solicited a donation from a major food service contractor shortly after a whistleblower lawsuit accused the company of swindling millions of dollars from the school system, according to a ruling from the D.C.’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.
The ethics board decided to censure the former chancellor — issuing a formal statement of disapproval — but did not fine Henderson for the missteps. Henderson left her job in October.
Henderson said she was unaware that she was breaking any rules at the time, noting that her predecessor also solicited donations from contractors, according to case documents the ethics board released.
“Nonetheless, Respondent now acknowledges that her conduct violated the District Code of Conduct,” according to the documents.
D.C. Public Schools officials declined to comment on the ruling, and Henderson did not respond to request for comment Wednesday.
City ethics rules restrict District employees from soliciting donations from any organization seeking business, or doing business with, the agency for which that employee works. The board did not conclude that Henderson was seeking donations in an attempt to influence her decision to do business with the contractor.
The board launched an investigation into Henderson’s actions earlier this year after the Associated Press first obtained emails showing that Henderson had solicited a donation from the school’s system’s food contractor, Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality. Henderson often seeks donations on behalf of The DC Public Education Fund — a nonprofit group that is separate from D.C. Public Schools.
But the timing of the request raised concerns: The vendor’s contract with the school was set to lapse and a whistleblower had filed a lawsuit against the food provider in 2013, alleging the company overcharged the city and mismanaged the schools meals programs, with food often arriving late, spoiled, or in short supply.
The emails between Henderson and the school system’s food contractor revealed that the company’s president emailed the chancellor asking her to send sponsorship information in September 2013 for an upcoming teacher gala. The DC Public Education Fund hosted the annual Standing Ovation for D.C. Teachers gala at the Kennedy Center.
Henderson connected the company’s president, Warren Thompson, with someone who provided him with information about how to donate. She then asked Thompson to donate at the $100,000 level. The emails indicate that the two had met in person the week before; the school system has not said what that meeting entailed.
“Warren, we’re hoping you come in at A Round of Applause, as we’d love to have a dozen of your team members able to share in celebrating the teachers they support every day,” Henderson wrote, referencing a level of donations at or above $100,000.
Thompson ultimately donated $25,000, and the email exchange ended with Henderson writing: “You Rock!”