- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Officials at Options Public Charter School on Capitol Hill fired Principal Clarence Edward Dixon yesterday, saying he lied to his employers about his criminal background and misrepresented himself.

“He falsified his resume and lied on his [background-check] application,” said Vickie Frazier-Williams, vice president of communications for Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc., the school’s management company. “He lied to us, and that is the bottom line.”

School officials appointed the school’s vice principal, Monique Murdock, interim principal Thursday.

The action was taken after The Washington Times reported Thursday 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.

Chancellor Beacon officials said their reviews of applicants’ backgrounds include checking references and asking applicants to apply for documents from state and city governments showing that they do not have criminal records. Because it is a private company and not a public agency, Chancellor Beacon cannot apply for police background checks, officials said.

Chancellor officials were not aware of Mr. Dixon’s past because they had received documents from the District and Maryland showing that he did not have a criminal record.

Background checks conducted in the District last year and in Maryland in 2001 showed no arrests or convictions on Mr. Dixon’s record. However, he had been convicted of theft in the District in 1992 and of federal fraud charges in Tennessee in 1995.

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

D.C. police officials said yesterday that background checks examine records for the previous 10 years, explaining how Mr. Dixon’s 1992 conviction was missed.

The 2001 Maryland documents, from the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, include a request to the FBI for a records search of Mr. Dixon’s criminal background. It turned up clear.

State officials said schools usually request a partial records check for a “Maryland Childcare Facilities” clearance. A partial records search checks for arrests or convictions for 41 crimes, but not theft or fraud.

That could explain how Mr. Dixon came to be hired as a special-education teacher at Prince George’s County Schools in 2001. County school officials have not responded to requests for comment.

D.C. school officials said they do not use police criminal-history checks for background investigations, but rely on a complete FBI records check. The school system discovered Mr. Dixon’s criminal record when he applied for — and was denied — a job in 2000, officials said.

Meanwhile, D.C. Board of Education officials have threatened to revoke Options’ charter if the school does not devise by next week a plan to address several issues, including Mr. Dixon’s employment.

“I have told [Options board of trustees] that they have to come in with a solid plan for me to feel comfortable enough to recommend to the Board of Education that they continue to operate,” said Brenda Belton, executive director of charter schools. “Otherwise, we will put them on probation. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Ms. Belton said she is concerned about the performance of the school’s management company, the hiring of a felon with questionable credentials and the “stonewalling” by Options officials to provide financial documents for the annual review by D.C. education officials.

“Chancellor has not been very forthcoming and done a terrible job,” she said. “I had been receiving complaints from teachers and parents for months. I knew something was amiss, but I didn’t have a clue that it was this bad.”

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 didn’t return calls Thursday or yesterday.

Chancellor Beacon 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 Beacon hired Mr. Dixon to run Options for $70,000 annually, company officials confirmed.

Options was chartered in 1996, has 148 students in grades five through eight and is the city’s oldest charter school.

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run enterprises, and 16 of the city’s 39 charter schools are overseen by the D.C. school board.

D.C. school board officials said there is no policy on how charter schools should hire staff or check their backgrounds. Each school does its own hiring and checking independently.

Ms. Belton said she will require that all charter school administrators turn over to her office copies of their resumes and background checks.

“This incident is raising all kinds of questions that we hadn’t thought of before,” she said. “A lot of safeguards are going to be put in place to make sure the schools can be held accountable and so they can thrive.”

According to court records from 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.

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 in Kentucky, five months of electronic monitoring and three years of supervised probation, which ended in July. He was ordered to pay $39,493 in restitution.

Mr. Dixon’s resume is riddled with entries that can’t be verified or that contradict information from the Tennessee Department of Education records. For example, his resume says he was employed by “Tennessee Public Schools” in Nashville as a special-education teacher from 1995 to 1997 and as an assistant principal at Nashville Public Schools from 1998 to 2000.

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.

Chancellor Beacon officials are not sure whether the one of Mr. Dixon’s references they contacted is legitimate. The reference listed a Tennessee phone number to verify information about a job he held in Prince George’s County.

Yesterday, a friend of Mr. Dixon’s said Mr. Dixon had asked him to pose as a reference while he was applying for jobs in 2001.

“I provided a reference for him, pretending to be someone else,” the friend told The Times on the condition of anonymity.

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