District Dossier

Fishing Outing Ends in Firing

Baltimore official’s trip prompts investigation.

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It started with a disgruntled former employee alleging on local radio that the Baltimore school system had paid for a fishing excursion for 10 district staff members and city officials.

Within a few days, district Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland ordered an investigation. By May 31, the schools chief had fired Eric Letsinger, her chief operating officer, who had chartered a boat for $1,600 to treat his staff to an outing on Chesapeake Bay.

Ms. Copeland announced her decision in a terse written statement.

“As a result of that investigation, Eric Letsinger will be vacating his position of chief operating officer and will no longer be employed with [the Baltimore city schools],” the statement said.

Last week, according to a report in The Sun of Baltimore, state prosecutors opened their own investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, Mr. Letsinger, who as the head of school maintenance and construction was a principal architect of the district’s controversial school closure plan, told the newspaper that he had done nothing wrong.

But the brouhaha is another blow to the 87,000-student district, which has been struggling to polish its public image.

Two years ago, a fiscal crisis saddled the school system with a $58 million deficit in a $918 million budget and led to a City Hall loan to keep the district afloat.

Earlier this spring, Ms. Copeland and her team were left reeling after the Maryland state board of education, invoking the federal No Child Left Behind Act, voted to seize control of four low-performing Baltimore high schools and to turn over seven middle schools to outside managers. (State lawmakers blocked the takeovers for at least one year.)

Since Mr. Letsinger’s chartered fishing trip was first revealed, district officials have refused to discuss details, saying it’s a personnel matter.

In interviews with The Sun, Mr. Letsinger said that the trip was originally meant to be a retreat for his staff to discuss district issues and thus could be billed to the school system. But after the outing became a day of fun and relaxation, Mr. Letsinger said he paid the bill himself, according to the newspaper.

Vol. 25, Issue 40, Page 5

Published in Print: June 14, 2006, as Fishing Outing Ends in Firing

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