- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

The former director of the D.C. State Education Office (SEO) who quit five months ago amid charges of mismanagement was rehired within months to another city government post with a six-figure salary.

Cornelia V. “Connie” Spinner resigned June 30 as director of the education office, where city auditors uncovered improprieties in travel expenses and misuse of federal grant dollars. But she was hired Aug. 16 for a $105,393-a-year job running an adult-literacy program, which the city moved that month from SEO jurisdiction to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and UDC President William L. Pollard both ducked responsibility for hiring Ms. Spinner to lead the Mayor’s Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning Initiative, a program that distributes more than $1 million in grants a year.

After spending more than 24 hours researching the genesis of Ms. Spinner’s current employment, Williams spokeswoman Sharon Gang said it could not be ascertained who hired her.

“Here’s what I found out,” Ms. Gang said. “When it was determined that the adult-literacy program would be more appropriately housed and run by UDC, Connie Spinner was hired as a university employee to run the program. She has prior experience in the field of adult education and is qualified to administer the program from UDC.”

Ms. Gang said the mayor does not have authority to hire employees at the city’s only public university.

However, UDC spokesman Mike Andrews said the mayor hired Ms. Spinner.

“She came as part of the transfer of the program,” he said.

“Ms. Spinner came to the university to run the adult-literacy program in the same capacity she held when the program fell under District control,” Mr. Andrews said. “The university hired her because she came with the grant that supported the program.”

The new job provided Ms. Spinner with fewer responsibilities but a paycheck nearly matching the $105,579 per year that she gave up at the education office. She went from running an agency with an $81 million budget, about 50 employees and 7 programs, to overseeing a single program with a $2 million budget and about 21 employees.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, who called for Ms. Spinner’s ouster just prior to her resignation from the education office, said someone had arranged a “soft landing” for her.

“There was a lot of questions about the management skills at SEO,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “Clearly, Connie cares about education, but we will have to wait and see” how she runs the literacy program.

Mr. Mendelson requested the audit this summer that found the education office under Ms. Spinner’s leadership had misused taxpayer dollars and mismanaged a program to feed needy schoolchildren.

In September, the D.C. auditor issued a report that revealed SEO managers spent taxpayer dollars on out-of-town trips unrelated to city business and misappropriated more than $100,000 in federal grants.

The report, which did not identify which managers were responsible for misspending, found that education office employees failed to return travel advances on a canceled trip, were reimbursed twice for the same trip and improperly charged tens of thousands of dollars in other travel costs.

For example, the auditors cited a two-day trip costing $1,108 for five employees to go to Richmond. The employees stayed overnight even though their meeting at the Virginia State Education Office ended at 1 p.m. on the first day, according to the report.

Auditors also found that the agency improperly took $160,000 in federal grant funds intended to feed schoolchildren and spent the money on two unrelated administrative positions.

Ms. Spinner, who spent 23 years in administrative and teaching jobs in the city’s public schools, is considered politically connected in the District, especially in Ward 7.

Mr. Williams appointed her to head up the education office when it was created in 2000. The SEO took on administrative tasks for education programs, such as free-meal and tuition programs, that state agencies typically oversee.

She got the top job at the education office despite quitting as director of the city’s Child and Youth Investment Trust after accusations of financial mismanagement.

Ms. Spinner declined to be interviewed for this article.

However, she questioned the audits findings in a Sept. 13 letter to D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols. The former agency head said the report “sweeps regular staff training into the category of ‘travel.’”

“That illogical blending of fiscal categories presents an inaccurate budget picture and serves only to heighten a perceived deficiency, rather than render an accurate representation of the facts,” Ms. Spinner wrote.

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