- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

Officials at Options Public Charter School on Capitol Hill yesterday replaced Principal Clarence Edward Dixon with an interim administrator until an investigation of his criminal and professional history is completed.

Vice Principal Monique Murdoch was told Wednesday night to arrive early the next day because she “is now the principal,” said Charles Vincent, president of the school’s board of directors.

“We had no choice. We had to do it,” Mr. Vincent said. “Now we have to figure how it all happened and where we go from here.”

The action was taken after The Washington Times reported yesterday that Mr. Dixon is a felon with a long arrest record and was on probation for credit-card fraud when he took charge of Options in June.

Charter school officials yesterday scrambled to find out how they hired a felon with questionable credentials.

“We continue to investigate how this could have happened,” said Vickie Frazier-Williams, vice president of Chancellor Beacon, the school’s management company. “We will find out where the holes are.”

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run enterprises.

Chancellor Beacon officials said their reviews of applicants’ backgrounds include checking references and asking applicants to apply for documents from state and city governments that show that they have no criminal records.

Because Chancellor is a private company and not a public agency, it cannot apply for police background checks, officials said.

In Mr. Dixon’s case, Chancellor received two sets of documents — one from Maryland and one from the District — saying he had no criminal record.

The Maryland documents, from the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, are dated Oct. 30, 2001, and Dec. 7, 2001. They say Mr. Dixon has no criminal history in Maryland and include a request to the FBI for a records search. However, the document does not list his Social Security number and bears an incorrect date of birth: Aug. 25, 1965. Mr. Dixon’s birth date is Aug. 28, 1965.

The D.C. police criminal-history request is dated June 21, 2002, and bears Mr. Dixon’s Social Security number and correct date of birth. It is stamped “No record.”

But in a search of D.C. Superior Court’s records last week, The Times found three separate arrests and one 1992 conviction for theft.

A D.C. official familiar with school-security matters yesterday said the school system doesn’t use D.C. police criminal history checks in its background investigations,

“They are worthless,” the official said. “We had cases in which the FBI fingerprint searches found convictions when the D.C. police documents said ‘No record.’”

Meanwhile, Chancellor officials were trying to determine how thoroughly they performed reference checks. Recruiters called the three references listed on Mr. Dixon’s resume, but only one returned their call, company officials said. They said they are not sure if that reference, which had a Tennessee phone number, was provided for a job as a principal at Raymond A. Rogers Jr. School in Prince George’s County as they initially thought.

That job is the most recent listed on Mr. Dixon’s resume.

Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc. is a private company based in Coconut Grove, Fla., that manages 81 public charter and private schools in eight states. The company operates two public charter schools in the District. Chancellor hired Mr. Dixon and pays him about $75,000 annually, school officials estimated, to run the school, which was chartered in 1996 and has 148 students in grades five to eight.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Mr. Dixon declined to speak to The Times about his criminal or professional record. He directed inquiries to Greenbelt lawyer David Alexander, who declined to comment Wednesday and could not be reached yesterday.

According to court records in the District, Maryland and Tennessee, Mr. Dixon has been arrested eight times in the past 15 years on charges that include theft, fraud and drug possession. In 1992, he was convicted of theft and ordered to pay $2,240 in restitution. Later that year, the District ordered a fugitive warrant after Mr. Dixon failed to appear in court or pay restitution.

In 1995, Mr. Dixon was convicted in a credit-card fraud scheme that totaled $39,493, court documents show. He was sentenced to five months in federal prison, five months of electronic monitoring and three years of supervised probation with spot drug checks and no access to credit. He was ordered to pay $39,493 in restitution. His probation on that conviction ended in July.

Mr. Dixon’s resume also is causing concern among his employers.

According to his resume, he worked as a Nashville juvenile-probation officer from 1992 to 1993 and later as a clinical educator at a psychiatric facility in Nashville from 1993 to 1994. Tennessee officials were unable to verify either position.

From 1995 to 1997, he joined “Tennessee Public Schools” in Nashville as a special education teacher, according to his resume. From 1997 to 1998, he was a graduate assistantship at Tennessee State University. In 1998, he worked as an assistant principal at Nashville Public Schools.

Vance Rugaard, director of the teacher-licensing division of the Tennessee Department of Education, said there is no evidence Mr. Dixon ever worked in an administrative capacity in a public school in the state, worked in Nashville schools or worked as a teacher from September 1995 through June 1997.

Mr. Rugaard listed four districts outside Nashville where Mr. Dixon worked from 1993 to 1995, 1998 to 1999 and part of the 1999-2000 school year. Tennessee State University officials said they had no record of a graduate assistantship.

Less than two months after his release from a federal prison in Kentucky in July 2000, Mr. Dixon took over as principal at Raymond A. Rogers Jr. School, officials confirmed. Soon after, he was hired by Prince George’s County schools as a special education teacher at Ridgecrest Elementary, county officials confirmed.

There is no record that Mr. Dixon is certified to teach in Maryland, state education officials said. His Tennessee license was flagged after his arrest and is now expired.

Teachers and administrators in D.C. charter schools are exempt from certification requirements.

D.C. school-board officials, who oversee 16 of the city’s more than 40 charter schools, are investigating Options after reports of improprieties on standardized tests three weeks ago and complaints from parents and teachers.

Brenda Belton, executive director for charter schools, was unavailable for comment.

D.C. officials expressed outrage.

“The first step they took is the right one, placing [Mr. Dixon] on [administrative] leave, and if any of these allegations are found to be true, he should be removed,” said D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said Mr. Dixon’s hiring flies in the face of reasonable judgment.

“To the common person, this is a completely inappropriate hire, and to the extent that someone on the [Options] board or at the school feels differently, then they should be let go as well,” Mr. Fenty said.

• Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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