- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Prince George’s County school officials said yesterday they will not reconsider the $125,000 severance deal for schools chief Andre J. Hornsby, despite a report supporting charges that he manipulated a procurement process for the financial benefit of a live-in girlfriend and a business associate.

“I still think that was a small price to pay — I hate to say to get rid of him — but that was a small price to pay for the system to move on and separate ourselves from Doctor Hornsby,” said Howard W. Stone, vice chairman of the Prince George’s County Board of Education.

“If we knew then what we know now, Doctor Hornsby probably would have been dismissed,” he said. “But we cannot be Monday-morning quarterbacks. … We put that chapter behind us.”

Mr. Hornsby negotiated a severance package as part of the four-year, $250,000-a-year contract he signed upon being hired in 2003. The school board approved the severance payment when Mr. Hornsby resigned May 27 amid an FBI investigation into financial improprieties and in anticipation of the report by an outside auditing firm. The remainder of the contract was worth $500,000 in salary.

The buyout comes at a time when the school system is in financial straits, including $40 million in state aid being withheld as a result of long-overdue financial audits.

Mr. Hornsby, who was vacationing in the Bahamas after his resignation but reportedly has returned, has denied wrongdoing and said the methodology of the report was skewed against him.

According to the report by Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group, which the board received Friday, Mr. Hornsby steered a $1 million contract for educational software to a company employing his live-in girlfriend, Sienna Owens, who received half the sales commission.

He also helped secure a lucrative consulting contract for Cynthia Joffrion, who appeared to be operating a consulting firm with Mr. Hornsby, while he ran the 136,000-student school system.

Mr. Hornsby has been credited with helping improve student test scores in a system that ranks among the lowest in the state, and preliminary results from Maryland School Assessment tests to be released today are expected to show continued improvement.

Still, Mr. Stone and other school officials say such gains overshadow Mr. Hornsby’s apparent abuses of office.

The termination clause in Mr. Hornsby’s employment contract stated he would receive the severance money only under specific circumstances, including a voluntary resignation or a separation mutually agreed to by the board.

He would receive no money if fired for such reasons as “misconduct, dishonesty, commission of a crime or fraud, [or] commission of an act of moral turpitude,” according to the contract.

The school board concluded upon reviewing the Huron report that Mr. Hornsby’s conduct “appeared to violate the board’s conflict-of-interest policy and betray the public trust.”

However, the $125,000 payoff is a “done deal,” Mr. Stone said yesterday.

School board spokesman John White said the school system’s human resources department was reviewing the report to determine whether future action was appropriate, but that the severance deal remained preferable to fighting a lawsuit by Mr. Hornsby.

“At the moment the feeling is the amount of the severance and the commitment [the board] made would not be any more expensive than a court battle,” he said. “In the meantime, we have been spared any further distraction from the mission of the school system.”

Mr. Hornsby has a history of proposing lawsuits when fired.

He threatened a $25 million suit after the Yonkers, N.Y., school system accused him of unethical behavior, then fired him from the superintendent job. Mr. Hornsby maintained his innocence, but never pursued the suit.

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