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Hornsby Approved For Md. Tutoring: Timing and 'Moxie' Irk School Officials

Ohanian Comment: Hornsby left his job while under investigation by the FBI. Writing in The Post at that time, Mark Fisher described his career as riddled with ethical lapses So now he has landed himself a new job in Maryland. "Distraction" seems like a curious word to use for this turn of events.

By Nick Anderson

Andre J. Hornsby, the former Prince George's County schools chief who quit last year after he became ensnared in an ethics controversy and an FBI investigation, has won approval from Maryland to operate a tutoring business in a taxpayer-funded program for needy students.

Hornsby's company won state approval in January to provide tutoring to children from high-poverty schools in Prince George's, Baltimore City and elsewhere, starting this year. His unexpected reemergence as a player on the educational scene has provoked anxiety in the school system he led from 2003 to last year.

The school board just hired Hornsby's successor, John E. Deasy, who will take office May 1.

"The timing is wrong," said board member Judy Mickens-Murray (Upper Marlboro). "I'm just disappointed that this will become yet another distraction. It continues to take us back to the past."

But Hornsby said he simply aims to help kids.

"I got into this business because I know how to improve student achievement for children," Hornsby said last week. "And I've demonstrated that across the country, everywhere I've been."

With a company called Quality Schools Consulting Inc., which he launched six years ago, Hornsby is targeting a market created by the four-year-old No Child Left Behind law.

The federal law requires certain public schools to offer free tutoring for low-achieving children when the schools fall short of standards three years in a row. Federal dollars subsidize what are called "supplemental educational services" -- after-school instruction for students, one-on-one or in small groups.

Hornsby received mostly praise for an academic overhaul that was considered a factor in rising student test scores. But he also was beset by questions about his ethics and hard-charging leadership style that ultimately shook public confidence in the school system.

In fall 2004, it emerged that the school system had purchased about $1 million worth of equipment from LeapFrog Enterprises Inc. of California while Hornsby lived with a company saleswoman. Hornsby had not disclosed the relationship to the school board.

The revelation prompted the school board to seek an independent ethics review of Hornsby's role in the LeapFrog purchase and other matters, including activities related to Quality Schools Consulting Inc. The review raised questions about whether the consulting company was dormant during Hornsby's tenure as chief, as he claimed. The school board declared that the review had found evidence that Hornsby might have violated conflict-of-interest policies -- a conclusion Hornsby stoutly disputed.

In addition, the FBI opened an investigation into Hornsby's handling of federal funds related to the LeapFrog purchase and other matters. Agents seized records from school headquarters in April 2005 and subsequently interviewed school system employees and board members.

Hornsby expressed regret last year for embarrassment he caused the system. But he denied wrongdoing and has been charged with no crime. He submitted his resignation in May.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation.

It's not unusual for former school system leaders to remain active in the county. Former chief Iris T. Metts, for example, is a charter schools consultant in Prince George's. But board members predicted the resurfacing of Hornsby in Prince George's would cause a stir.

"It takes a lot of moxie to do it here, but that's Andre," said board Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. (Mitchellville).

Hornsby, 52, who also has been a school administrator in New York and Houston and president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, said in a brief telephone interview that he was attracted by the size of the Maryland market. The state estimates as much as $28 million a year in public funds is available for the program.

"Any good businessperson would do business where there's a large market," he said.

Hornsby declined to comment further. He would not say where he lives. His telephone number had an Oklahoma area code.

A Maryland State Department of Education official said Hornsby's application was given no special treatment. Ann Chafin, director of the department's program improvement and family support branch, said Hornsby's company scored a 79 on a 100-point scale for judging applications. Seventy points were required for approval. The state gave credit for evidence of the effectiveness of the proposed instructional program, for links to the Maryland curriculum and for plans to monitor student progress and communicate with parents, among other factors.

Hornsby's application proposed to tutor students from kindergarten through eighth grade in twice-weekly, two-hour sessions, with instructors to be recruited from local school systems. The student-instructor ratio would be a maximum of 8 to 1. All staff members working with students would be vetted with a criminal background check. The tutoring program, according to the application, would be "directly aligned" with state and local curriculum guidelines, which Hornsby presumably knows well.

The application cited Hornsby's record of promoting after-school programs. "With the support of a staff of experts and practitioners from the academic and publishing fields, students will benefit from a wealth of experience from one of the nation's leading educational minds," the application states.

An appendix indicated that Sienna R. Owens, the former LeapFrog saleswoman linked to Hornsby, was contributing to the enterprise.

Chafin said there are about 50 tutoring providers in Maryland. Some operate on campuses; others work in homes or offices. About 8,500 students participate in the program statewide, but thousands more are eligible. Providers are paid based on the number of students they help and time spent with them. Chafin estimated a typical tutoring bill would be $1,000 or more per student in a school year.

In Prince George's, state data show that 5,975 students are eligible for tutoring but only 1,095 receive it. Interim schools chief Howard A. Burnett said that he wanted to expand the tutoring in any way possible and that Hornsby was welcome to contribute.

"I'm supportive of any state-approved program," Burnett said.

Officials said the Prince George's system does not have a choice in the matter. Local school systems, they said, are not allowed to bar a tutoring business from operating in a city or county once state approval has been given. So Hornsby's company could start offering services by summer.

"The real test is how many parents allow their children to be tutored by his program," said Prince George's school board President Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro).

Staff writer Eric Rich contributed to this report.

— Nick Anderson
Washington Post
2006-03-20


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