Law & Courts

Consultants Question Business Practices, Contracts in Md. District

By Jeff Archer — June 14, 2005 2 min read
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Under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Andre J. Hornsby, the Prince George’s County, Md., school district manipulated procurement processes to steer a contract to a woman who was a longtime Hornsby associate, an investigative report released last week concludes.

The probe, by a private firm hired by the school board, found evidence that a software vendor also may have paid a commission to another woman, Mr. Hornsby’s live-in girlfriend, who was a sales representative for the company. It also said the schools chief’s consulting business sought outside work after he came to the Maryland system, despite claims that the company was “dormant.”

The report by Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group came 10 days after Mr. Hornsby announced his resignation from the 136,000-student district, and amid an FBI investigation of the district’s business dealings. In a statement, the school board said last week the report “raises serious legal and ethical concerns.”

Lawyers for Mr. Hornsby shot back with their own lengthy statement criticizing Huron’s claims as speculative and based on hearsay. Denying any wrongdoing by the district CEO, they wrote that the deals in question have helped the system financially and academically.

The school board asked Huron to do a “forensic audit” after news reports examined Mr. Hornsby’s ties to companies that did business with the district. Huron interviewed some 20 district officials, including Mr. Hornsby, and reviewed district e-mails.

Much of the resulting report focuses on Cynthia Joffrion, who worked for Mr. Hornsby as an information-technology official in his previous jobs as an administrator in Yonkers, N.Y., and Houston. Mr. Hornsby hired her as a consultant after coming to Prince George’s County. (“Ethics Issues Snare School Leaders,” January 12, 2005.)

E-Rate Help

According to Huron’s report, Ms. Joffrion helped the Maryland district seek vendors to assist it in getting money under the federal E-rate technology program. After five companies submitted bids, the report says, she offered a proposal for the job under a new company registered in her husband’s name, E-Rate Managers.

District staff members told Huron that then they revised their rankings of the proposals so that E-Rate Managers won the contract. While those staff members said they were not directed to do so, “they knew upon the receipt of the proposal from EM, that EM would get this contract,” the report states.

Huron found that Ms. Joffrion was involved with another vendor, Quality Schools Consulting Inc., that Mr. Hornsby formed in 2000 to offer E-rate assistance to districts. The report says that she referred potential client districts to the company after Mr. Hornsby assumed the job in Prince George’s County.

Ms. Joffrion did not return calls for comment last week.

On another matter, the report says that under Mr. Hornsby’s leadership, the district greatly expanded a deal involving federal money with LeapFrog SchoolHouse, a technology company that employed a woman that the district leader lived with. Huron cites statements attributed to LeapFrog officials saying that she got part of a commission on the $1 million contract.

In their response, Mr. Hornsby’s lawyers said the contracts examined were made on the recommendation of other district officials. They said the deals have netted the district more federal money and gains in achievement.

“[N]o fair-minded person can reasonably dispute that Dr. Hornsby sought to do what he thought was right and best for the students of the Prince George’s County Public Schools,” states the response.

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