- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

A report by an outside consulting firm supports charges against former Prince George’s County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby that he steered a $1 million contract to a company employing his live-in girlfriend and gave a lucrative consulting job to a business associate.

Mr. Hornsby, who resigned May 27 in anticipation of yesterday’s report and amid an FBI investigation into financial improprieties, has denied any wrongdoing.

“The conduct of Dr. Hornsby as documented in the report appears to violate the Board’s conflict-of-interest policy and betray the public trust,” the county school board said of the report by the Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group.

The school board has directed Huron to cooperate with the FBI probe.

The firm’s forensic audit found evidence that Mr. Hornsby interceded to award a $1 million contract to LeapFrog SchoolHouse to supply educational software and other materials to the school district. His live-in girlfriend, Sienna Owens, netted half the commission on the contract as a company saleswoman, the report said.

Mr. Hornsby did not disclose the relationship when the June 2004 deal was struck.

He also helped circumvent the school system’s procurement process to secure his business associate Cynthia Joffrion a consulting job for the federal E-Rate program, which provides funds to schools and libraries to obtain telecommunications and Internet access.

The contract appeared to be worth more than $50,000, with Mrs. Joffrion earning a 1 percent commission on E-Rate funds in excess of $2 million received by the schools.

E-mails apparently exchanged by Mr. Hornsby and Mrs. Joffrion indicated they work together in an E-Rate consulting business, while Mr. Hornsby was making $250,000 a year leading the 136,000-student school system.

Mrs. Joffrion incorporated her own consulting firm days after winning the contract in Prince George’s County, the report said.

The board yesterday announced it had canceled the consulting contract and directed its legal staff to determine what action, if any, to take regarding the LeapFrog contract.

The report was based on extensive interviews with Mr. Hornsby and other key players as well as the examination and tracing of hundreds of e-mails sent to and from Mr. Hornsby’s e-mail accounts.

Mr. Hornsby, who received a copy of the report Friday, issued a written response that highlighted his success running the schools, such as 84 percent of the county’s schools showing improved reading scores in the 2004 Maryland School Assessments.

He also criticized the methodology of the Huron investigation.

“The heavy reliance upon a confusing analysis of e-mail traffic, which Huron frankly acknowledges is simply not subject to any definitive interpretation, where there is specific, credible and supported information to address the issues regarding the LeapFrog and E-Rate issues is hard to understand,” Mr. Hornsby wrote.

The written response said the audit’s reliance on unnamed sources, use of newspaper reports and mischaracterization of his interview statements impugned the integrity of the report.

“This concern is underscored by the lack of any attempt to focus on the positive impact of Dr. Hornsby’s decision regarding E-Rate and LeapFrog on the Prince George’s County Public Schools,” it said.

The school board statement acknowledged the gains made by students during Mr. Horsby’s tenure, but faulted his response for failing to address “many of the most disturbing facts” in the report.

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