- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

D.C. school officials are investigating charges that a security guard and other employees of a special education center in Northeast took 13 or more computers from the building last week without authorization.

Theodore Tuckson, acting director of security for D.C. public schools, said in an e-mail to his boss that he had dispatched “a team of investigators” to look into allegations that the workers removed the computers from Hamilton Center at 1401 Brentwood Parkway with the principal’s permission.

“Also, the [security] camera archives are being researched in an attempt to corroborate the allegations,” Mr. Tuckson said in his e-mail Friday, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

Mr. Tuckson sent the e-mail to Louis J. Erste, chief operating officer for the school system. Mr. Erste said through an assistant yesterday that the matter is under investigation. He declined further comment.

Investigators are checking reports that Brenda Kinsler, principal of Hamilton Center, gave staff members permission to take the computers, which were being replaced with a newer set, the advocate said.

School adminsitrators are not authorized to dispose of public property and equipment as they see fit.

Superintendent Paul Vance announced Thursday that he had placed Miss Kinsler on administrative leave following allegations that she had made improper purchases with government-issued credit cards.

Miss Kinsler was one of 10 persons from six schools put on leave for similar reasons. Mr. Vance has said further review could lead to terminations and referrals to law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Tuckson refused to talk about the probe of the computers at Hamilton Center, citing the school system’s policy of not commenting on personnel issues. His e-mail on the incident was copied to Mr. Vance and D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Education Committee.

A special-education advocate, who is familiar with the incident but asked not to be identified in this article, said a security guard, a cafeteria worker, two secretaries and several school aides are suspected of removing the computers from Hamilton Center, which is attended by about 90 students.

Investigators went to Hamilton Center yesterday to interview those suspected of taking the computers and to tell them to return the equipment.

The computers apparently were removed between Wednesday morning and Friday. It was not clear how old or how valuable the computers are.

The findings of the credit-card investigation, announced last week, showed that employees violated policy by using the cards to pay for computers and Internet service and to pay contractors for computer-related work at Hamilton as well as at Bunker Hill, Houston, Moten, Randolph and Ludlow-Taylor elementary schools.

The Times reported last month that city auditors found that school officials could not account for more than $1.6 million in credit-card charges, about one-quarter of the school system’s card expenditures for fiscal 2001.

The system issued 275 credit cards to administrators and other school officials, who have spent more than $15 million in credit transactions over the past two years.

The credit card program was started so that city and school system employees could bypass paperwork and procedures to purchase some necessary items more quickly.

The D.C. Council voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend the program for 225 days, overriding a veto by Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Council members said the program needs “sweeping reforms” before it continues.

Records show that some city workers have gone hundreds of thousands of dollars over the limit on the cards, made questionable purchases and run up interest charges.

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