Andre J. Hornsby
Andre J. Hornsby Sentenced In scheme To Cause The Prince George’s County Public Schools To Award Lucrative Contracts To Associates And Himself
Nov 27th, 2008LINKU.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte
sentenced Andre J. Hornsby
, age 55, formerly of Mitchellville, Maryland, today to six years in prison followed by three years of supervised release, in connection with his conviction by a federal jury of honest services wire fraud, witness and evidence tampering and obstruction of justice arising from a scheme to cause the Prince George’s County Public Schools to award lucrative contracts to benefit close associates and himself, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Judge Messitte also ordered Hornsby to pay fines totaling $20,000 and restitution of $70,000.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said, “The evidence in this case demonstrated that Andre Hornsby abused his power for private financial gain, tampered with witnesses and obstructed a federal investigation. Public officials must pursue the public interest and not line their own pockets at taxpayer expense.”
Special Agent in Charge of the Baltimore FBI Field Office, Amy Jo Lyons stated, “Mr. Hornsby exploited his position as Chief Executive Officer of the Prince George’s County Public Schools for his own personal financial gain which came at the expense of the children he was entrusted to serve. We in the FBI are committed to addressing public corruption at every level, and are pleased to have been instrumental in this case.”
“All financial crimes add to the underground economy which erodes the integrity of our tax system and threatens the financial health of our communities. Crimes committed by public officials violate the public trust. IRS-Criminal Investigation is united with the rest of the law enforcement community to ensure public officials comply with the same laws as the citizens they serve. No one is above the law!” stated C. Andre’ Martin, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge.
The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), one of the 20 largest school districts in the nation in 2004, with a budget of more than $1 billion, employed Hornsby as Chief Executive Officer and Secretary and Treasurer of the Board of Education for Prince George’s County (Board) beginning in June 2003 until his resignation in May 2005.
Kickback from E-Rate Contracts
Hornsby owned and operated Quality Schools Consulting, Inc. (QSCi), which assisted schools in preparing applications to secure funds under the federal E-Rate program. E-Rate provides schools and libraries with substantial discounts on telecommunications services, Internet access and internal connections. Cynthia Joffrion, who had worked for Hornsby in other school districts, assisted Hornsby in providing these services.
According to testimony in the five week trial, in the fall of 2003 PGCPS sought assistance with its E-Rate applications. Hornsby directed PGCPS employees to seek proposals from outside E-Rate consulting companies by issuing a request for proposal (RFP). Joffrion provided Hornsby with a draft RFP which Hornsby provided to PGCPS personnel. Using that draft, PGCPS published an RFP for two weeks starting in October of 2003 to solicit bids. The mandatory deadline for the return of bids was November 3, 2003.
After evaluating the proposals submitted within the deadline, PGCPS recommended awarding the contract to a Maryland-based certified minority contractor, which submitted a bid for $59,675. Hornsby directed PGCPS personnel not to award the contract to the recommended contractor, and instead steered the contract to a non-existent company, “Erate Managers D.B. Inc. (Erate Managers),” purportedly operated by Joffrion, who transmitted a proposal after the deadline for bids had expired. Joffrion initially quoted a flat fee of $48,550, but after Hornsby privately complained about the price, on December 14, Joffrion submitted another proposal to PGCPS that substantially increased the quote by adding a fee of 1% of the E-Rate funds awarded in addition to the flat fee of $48,550.
Testimony at trial showed that as a result of Hornsby’s intervention, on December 19, 2003, PGCPS issued a purchase order to Erate Managers requiring the school system to pay $48,550 plus 1% of the value of the E-Rate funds awarded in excess of $2 million. Pursuant to the contract for 2004, PGCPS paid Erate Managers more than $80,000.
For the 2005 year, PGCPS again awarded Erate Managers a contract for E-Rate consulting services, requiring the school to pay $60,500 plus a fee of 1% of the value of the funds awarded up to $10 million and 1.5% of the value of the funding award in excess of $10 million, not to exceed $300,000. Under the 2005 contract, PGCPS paid Erate Managers $40,900 before the contract was terminated by the Board.
Hornsby and Joffrion agreed that Hornsby would receive half the proceeds from the E-Rate contracts. Joffrion contacted law enforcement and began cooperating with the FBI in October 2004. She then allowed the FBI to monitor her telephone conversations and meetings with Hornsby between November 2004 and June 2005. A videotape of a meeting at a hotel in Bowie, Maryland, on December 20, 2004, showed that Hornsby arranged to receive more than $100,000 from Joffrion, which represented about half of the fees to be paid by PGCPS. During the meeting, Hornsby took $1,000 in cash as a down payment. Hornsby proposed various methods to evade detection of the payments, including arranging for Joffrion to purchase valuable items for him such as property, a truck, art and a yacht.
Kickback from LeapFrog Contract
LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (LeapFrog) developed and marketed technology-based educational products. Sales commissions were generally paid to the representative assigned to the territory in which the sale was made. The sales representative for sales to customers in Virginia was Sienna Rochelle Owens. According to trial testimony, during his tenure as CEO, Hornsby and Owens were engaged in a long-term romantic relationship, and shared the same residence in Mitchellville, Maryland. Another sales representative was responsible for sales to customers in Maryland.
In May 2004, Hornsby directed that PGCPS establish a summer program for kindergarten students who were being held back, and suggested using LeapFrog products. After receiving proposals from the Maryland sales representative for LeapFrog, PGCPS personnel recommended using a LeapFrog package for 33 classrooms.
Meanwhile, Hornsby advised Owens that he wanted to purchase LeapFrog products for 216 classrooms. Owens dealt directly and exclusively with Hornsby, who finalized the LeapFrog contract on June 10, 2004. At Owens’ request, Hornsby called her supervisor and agreed that PGCPS would purchase the LeapFrog products for $956,280. This transaction was one of the largest sales ever made by LeapFrog’s SchoolHouse Division to public schools. At Hornsby’s direction, PGCPS mailed a check dated July 30, 2004, for $956,280 to LeapFrog to pay for the deal.
On June 4, 2004 Owens demanded 70-75% of the projected sales commission of $40,689, or a flat fee of $25,000 from the Maryland LeapFrog sales representative. Owens later agreed to accept $20,000 in commission and on June 11, 2004 she executed a commission share agreement with the Maryland sales representative using a Compaq Presario computer and software registered to Hornsby. On August 4 Owens received $20,000 by money order from the Maryland sales representative. Owens then paid Hornsby $10,000 in cash for his assistance in securing the LeapFrog contract. Hornsby instructed Owens to eliminate emails and other records that would reveal her involvement in the LeapFrog contract.
Concealment of the Kickbacks
In October 2004, following newspaper reports of the LeapFrog contract and the relationship between Hornsby and Owens, the FBI opened an investigation into PGCPS contracts with Erate and LeapFrog, leading to a federal grand jury investigation. Hornsby was aware in late 2004 of the federal investigations. He was also aware that the Board hired a forensic accounting firm, Huron Consulting Group (Huron), to investigate the contracts.
Testimony at trial showed that Hornsby made false statements to Huron auditors and in his written response to Huron’s June 3, 2005 written report. Hornsby falsely stated that: Joffrion did not work for, or provide services to any clients of, QSCi; he did not know who developed the RFP; PGCPS personnel did not select any of the five bidders for the initial E-Rate because their proposals did not respond to the RFP; after he assumed leadership of PGCPS he did not accept any new E-Rate business and that he had secured two E-Rate contracts with a Houston, Texas school district before his tenure with PGCPS; he was not aware that Owens played any role in the LeapFrog contract; he did not have any role in negotiations to finalize the LeapFrog contract; and he did not personally benefit from the E-Rate and LeapFrog contracts.
Obstruction of Justice
On the heels of the news of the federal investigation, Hornsby instructed PGCPS personnel to destroy back-up computer tapes containing his and other employee email. Additionally, Hornsby attempted to persuade Joffrion, who was cooperating with the FBI, not to produce the computer files from the Compaq computer used by Owens to create the commission-share agreement, which had subsequently been sent to Joffrion, as requested by a grand jury subpoena.
The jury acquitted Hornsby on two other counts and did not reach agreement on 14 charges.
Sienna Owens, who testified at trial, pleaded guilty to endeavoring to impede the internal revenue laws for failing to report the commission income from the LeapFrog contract. She faces a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison followed by a year of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation for their investigative work. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael R. Pauze and Stuart A. Berman, who prosecuted the case.Andre Hornsby is going to jailBaltimoreSun,
November 25, 2008
Despite the pleas of the head of the Baltimore Teachers Union, a federal judge had little sympathy for the former Prince George's County schools CEO. The judge ordered Hornsby today to begin a six-year prison sentence Jan. 2. After that, he'll have three years of supervised release. He also has to pay a $20,000 fine and $70,000 in restitution to the P.G. schools. And he has to enroll in alcohol treatment and cooperate in an IRS audit of his taxes.
Marietta English, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, spoke as a mitigating witness on Hornsby's behalf, urging the judge to have leniency. According to reporter Nick Madigan, English described Hornsby as "a visionary educator" and "a person of compassion."
"I do plead leniency for this wonderful educator who has a vision for our children," English said.
Crazy details of the case are in our story
, but in short: Hornsby was convicted on corruption charges alleging that he received kickbacks on school contracts awarded to companies that employed his live-in girlfriend and his business partner. My former colleague Alec MacGillis, now a reporter for The Washington Post, broke the story of the contract scheme for The Sun in 2004.
Hornsby's lawyer asked that he serve his time in a federal prison called El Reno, west of Oklahoma City.Before Sentencing, Hornsby Offers Letter
By Henri E. Cauvin, Washington Post, November 25, 2008; B06
Andre J. Hornsby, the former Prince George's County schools chief convicted on public corruption charges, describes himself to the federal judge who will sentence him today as a person who "can still be a positive force in society."
In a letter to the judge, Hornsby wrote that his "dedication to public service" was a choice and that his leadership style "ruffles a lot of feathers." The former educator admitted no wrongdoing but apologized to supporters, saying, "this has been a humbling experience that I would wish on no one."
Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of as long as 15 years for Hornsby, who was found guilty in July on fraud and obstruction charges. He resigned in 2005 amid accusations that he secretly arranged for a contract to be awarded to a company that employed his girlfriend.
Defense attorney Robert C. Bonsib has filed a lengthy memorandum at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt arguing for leniency. Along with Bonsib's words, the defense submission includes written testimonials from 45 of Hornsby's friends and colleagues and a video tribute produced while Hornsby was running the schools system.
It also contains private letters from Hornsby's family and the letter from Hornsby, which opens with him thanking Judge Peter J. Messitte "for recognizing my accomplishments in life by addressing me as Dr. Andre Hornsby."
Hornsby, 55, wrote that although the prosecution might mark the end of his career, "it should not be an end to what I have to offer society."
Hornsby, who arrived in Prince George's in 2003 promising to uplift its troubled school system, described in the letter his parents' separation when he was 6 years old and mentions drug use as a high school athlete. The choice to dedicate himself to public service, he wrote, has given him "great satisfaction and rewards through fighting for the underserved."
Hornsby was indicted in 2006. A grand jury alleged that he helped his girlfriend, a saleswoman for an educational technology firm, broker a contract worth almost a million dollars, for which she gave him half of her $20,000 commission. The FBI videotaped him in a Bowie motel room taking what prosecutors said was a $1,000 deposit on a $145,000 kickback from a longtime associate who was secretly cooperating with investigators.
A trial last fall ended in a hung jury. At a retrial this summer, a jury convicted him of fraud, evidence tampering and obstruction of justice -- in all, six of the 22 counts charged in the second trial. The jury deadlocked on 14 counts and acquitted on two.
Hornsby had maintained his innocence and insisted that he had always put his students first.
Messitte, who presided over both trials, has a reputation for long sentences, especially in cases such as Hornsby's.
"For white-collar cases, he can be tough," said Paul F. Kemp, a Maryland defense attorney who practices in federal court and who has had cases before Messitte. "He is someone who believes that to whom much is given, much is expected."
Washington defense attorney Barry Boss, an expert on federal sentencing, said that letters such as Hornsby's can prove valuable to defendants.
"I think that to the extent it gives the full picture, it can only be helpful."
The other prong of Hornsby's sentencing strategy is a legal argument that the judge should view his dealings with girlfriend Sienna Owens as a simple conflict of interest. Were the judge to accept that argument, it would change the calculus under the federal sentencing guidelines.
The amount of the loss incurred by the county, for example, would not be factored into the sentencing score calculated by court officials. Nor would the question of whether Hornsby had a high-level decision-making role be considered in determining the appropriate range under the sentencing guidelines. "It would make a substantial difference," Boss said.
It is not, however, an easy argument to win, other defense attorneys say, and in a 22-page response, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael R. Pauzé and Stuart A. Berman attacked it.
From the start, Hornsby was involved, secretly working with Owens to negotiate a much bigger contract than school officials were contemplating, prosecutors argue. After their involvement in the deal became public, Hornsby told Owens to cover their tracks, they contend, saying that his conduct indicated "an elaborate scheme to defraud."
August 24, 2006Former Yonkers School Chief Indicted
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The former superintendent of schools in Yonkers was indicted on Tuesday in Maryland on charges of taking kickbacks while he was the head of the Prince George’s County school system. Federal prosecutors said that in return for the kickbacks, Andre J. Hornsby steered educational software contracts to companies, including one that employed his companion. The 16-count federal indictment charged Mr. Hornsby with mail fraud, wire fraud, witness and evidence tampering and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors said that Mr. Hornsby was to receive a boat, a truck and art, which were worth about $100,000. They added that he also received half of a $20,000 commission paid to his companion. His lawyer declined to comment.Hornsby Resigns in Pr. George's
Embattled Schools Chief Is Under Investigation
By Nick Anderson, Washington Post Staff Writer, May 28, 2005; A01LINK
Prince George's County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby resigned yesterday amid an FBI investigation into his stewardship of federal funds and persistent questions about his management ethics at the helm of Maryland's second-largest school system.
Hornsby resigned effective June 30, halfway through a four-year contract, and is expected to go on administrative leave within a week. He negotiated a $125,000 severance under the contract's terms, half his annual base salary.
His departure at the close of the school year once again shakes a 136,000-student system that lags in test scores behind its peers in the Washington area despite the county's growing wealth. And it leaves the system in search of its third schools chief in six years.
Hornsby, a sometimes combative executive who asserted his expertise as an educator of minority children in New York, Houston and elsewhere, pledged to improve the uneven reputation of Prince George's schools when he arrived in the majority-black county two years ago.
A state report on whether the school system has advanced on standardized test scores in elementary and middle schools is due within weeks. It is likely to be an important gauge of Hornsby's controversial tenure.
Also expected within days is an independent consultant's review of Hornsby's actions in a $1 million educational technology purchase last year and other management issues. Hornsby lived with a saleswoman for the technology company, LeapFrog SchoolHouse, at the time of the purchase.
In a joint statement released yesterday evening, the board and Hornsby said the schools chief resigned "to prevent external distractions from interfering with the significant academic progress now being made by the system." Hornsby, 51, made a low-key appearance at high school graduation exercises and at a board meeting Thursday, giving no hint of his decision to exit. He made no public appearances yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
After accepting the resignation, the Board of Education named its top personnel officer, Howard Burnett, as interim chief. Board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor, who led the search committee that picked Hornsby two years ago, said the board did not force him out.
The statement also described as "unfortunate" questions about "the propriety of certain operational issues." That, too, was an apparent reference to the federal probe and to the independent review of Hornsby's actions by Huron Consulting Group Inc. of Chicago.
In the statement, the board praised Hornsby for making "remarkable progress" in student achievement and said it has been "generally supportive" of Hornsby's policies.
In Hornsby's first year, 2003-04, test scores rose in many county schools. But the state still lists more than 70 lower-performing schools -- more than a third of the system -- as needing improvement. Raising the performance of the school system is a top priority for county leaders preoccupied with improving education and reducing crime.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), in a prepared statement, said: "I have always believed Dr. Hornsby was doing a good job. I regret he was not able to complete the work he began to improve public education in Prince George's County. The issue at point now is to find a highly qualified chief executive officer."
The school board plans to name an acting chief soon to succeed Burnett. But it is unclear whether the board, due to be replaced next year, will pick a permanent chief. A board statement pledged only "a comprehensive search process" with community input.
The timing of the exit gives the school board just over two months to make leadership decisions before school resumes in August.
Hornsby's departure injects another note of instability in a system that is due to return to an elected school board next year. Prince George's has long had difficulty retaining teachers and principals. Hornsby named more than 87 principals in the 196-school system during his tenure.
The constantly churning system also has high student turnover from school to school, and it serves a county in which many anxious parents wonder whether they should abandon public schools for home school or private school.
The nine-member board was formed in 2002 by gubernatorial and county executive appointment, after the state abolished an elected school board widely viewed as dysfunctional.
Some critics have said the appointed board overlooked troubles in Hornsby's record when he was hired. In a previous position, Hornsby was fired as superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y., after only two years.
As in Prince George's, he was praised in Yonkers for raising test scores but criticized for alleged ethical misjudgments.
Tignor, in a telephone interview, called Hornsby an efficient and often accomplished administrator with political blind spots.
"Running a school system is more than just the academics of it," Tignor said, adding that Hornsby had "flaws" in some areas. "Maybe it was just not having a clear understanding of the culture of the Prince George's County community. When your support erodes, it makes it difficult in terms of keeping successful things going," she said.
In many ways, the LeapFrog purchase was emblematic of Hornsby's management style. A self-described "tech nut," he wanted to get computers quickly into the hands of kindergartners and first-graders for an early-reading initiative in schools serving disadvantaged children. So he negotiated a deal with the Emeryville, Calif.-based company and got its interactive "LeapPads" into schools last summer. He drew on federal anti-poverty funds for the deal.
But Hornsby did not disclose to the board his relationship with a LeapFrog saleswoman, which was exposed in news reports last fall and drew swift public criticism.
The FBI began an investigation of Hornsby's handling of the purchase and other matters related to federal funding. On April 19, federal agents seized records from Hornsby's office and another school facility while he was out of town.
Late yesterday, FBI spokesman Barry Maddox declined to comment on Hornsby's resignation, as did Vickie LeDuc, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.
Hornsby has steadfastly denied wrongdoing and has expressed sorrow for any embarrassment he has caused the school system.
The school board commissioned the Huron report this year after an initial ethics review, which had cleared Hornsby, was criticized as insufficient. The Huron report is expected to be released within a week.
Staff writers Ovetta Wiggins and Eric Rich contributed to this report.
January 15, 2001Levy Hires Dismissed Chief Of Yonkers School System
By AMY WALDMAN, NY TIMES
Andre J. Hornsby, who was fired after a stormy tenure as the superintendent of the Yonkers public schools, has been hired by the New York City schools chancellor, Harold O. Levy, as a supervising superintendent.
Dr. Hornsby came to Yonkers, the state's fourth-largest school district, in 1998 from Houston, where as a district superintendent, he was credited with helping to raise test scores at schools in poor neighborhoods.
Dr. Hornsby, Yonkers's first black superintendent, clashed first with the teachers' union, which went on strike for four days, and then with Mayor John D. Spencer and the school board over whether a court order for the desegregation of the city's public schools should be lifted.
He also received praise for raising reading scores and narrowing the performance gap between black and white students in a short time. But he was criticized for what critics called an autocratic management style: some parents, teachers and school officials said that he encouraged teaching geared specifically toward standardized tests and that he talked down to teachers.
But his undoing came when he challenged the mayor's and the school board's decision not to challenge the lifting of a federal court order, dating from 1986, that had found intentional segregation in the public schools. City officials said they welcomed the lifting of the order because they were eager to have what they saw as a stigma on the city removed.
Dr. Hornsby, in contrast, argued that there were still vestiges of segregation in the school system, but more important, that failing to appeal would shortchange the schools of millions of dollars in state money intended to improve performance of minority students and leave them with a budget shortfall.
He and the mayor clashed repeatedly and publicly, and last June, the board heeded the mayor's urging that Dr. Hornsby be removed. The dismissal prompted protests by civil rights advocates. Dr. Hornsby, meanwhile, began a nationwide job search.
In December, the Yonkers inspector general, Philip Zisman, released a report raising questions about Dr. Hornsby's decision to award a multimillion-dollar contract to the Xerox Corporation during his tenure as superintendent. The report said that Dr. Hornsby had accepted a handheld computer and a trip to a Massachusetts golf course from Xerox and had not given the Minolta Corporation a fair chance to bid for the contract.
After Mr. Zisman's report was released, The Journal News reported that Dr. Hornsby's lawyer, Jonathan Sack, said the board had been aware of the contract before it was approved. He called the report retaliation for Dr. Hornsby's battle with the mayor over the desegregation lawsuit.
Neither Dr. Hornsby nor Mr. Sack could be reached for comment by telephone yesterday.
A spokeswoman for New York City's Board of Education, Victoria Streitfeld, said of the inspector general's report, 'We viewed that information and gave it the worth it was due.' She said Dr. Hornsby was already working at his new job, but she did not know when he had started.
His hiring was first reported by the Yonkers Citizen, a local Web site, which quoted a memo Mr. Levy had sent to Board of Education on Jan. 4 informing the board of the hiring. The memo said Dr. Hornsby would lead 'executive development efforts for community school district superintendents.' Ms. Streitfeld said she did not know the details of Dr. Hornsby's new responsibilities or his salary.
October 29, 2000Where Are They Now? 2 Administrators Who Left
By CLAUDIA ROWE, NY TIMES
HIS nine months leading Lincoln High School were among the most tumultuous in recent memory, but Horace Williams is unrepentant. Actually, he looks back at his work there with satisfaction.
The school is changing, he said, which means he did what he was hired to do: Scores are up, teachers are taking pride in their work and students are moving in the right direction.
At Lincoln, however, the staff and students say they are happy with the school precisely because Mr. Williams is no longer there. He now sits behind a desk in the Roosevelt school district on Long Island as interim superintendent.
'If there are people who are happy that I'm gone, that's O.K.,' Mr. Williams said. 'My role was to create change. The reality is that as long as the program succeeds, I don't care what people think or who gets the credit.'
Apparently, State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills was impressed enough with Mr. Williams's work at Lincoln to personally tap him for the job on Long Island. Roosevelt schools, like several in Yonkers, are on the state's list of schools under review and have been for years. The district is in such disarray and students there have performed so poorly for so long that Roosevelt came under state control five years ago.
Mr. Williams's task is to bring about change, and to do it in one year.
'It's a long road, but we'll get there,' he said, sighing over the phone from his office at 7 p.m., on his way to a meeting. The night before, Mr. Williams said, he hadn't returned to his Westchester apartment until nearly midnight. He is looking for a home closer to his new job.
'If Lincoln was a challenge, then Roosevelt is, well, a real challenge,' said Ira Schwartz, a coordinator for the state review program.
Meanwhile, Andre J. Hornsby, Yonkers's former superintendent who hand-picked Mr. Williams for the job at Lincoln, is still looking for work.
Ousted from the district last June after alienating teachers, school board members and Mayor John D. Spencer, Dr. Hornsby has applied for superintendent posts around the country -- including in his hometown, Tulsa, Okla. -- without success. He still lives in Yonkers, but did not respond to a message left at his home.
For all their battles in Yonkers, student performance on standardized tests rose sharply at Lincoln under Mr. Williams, and increased somewhat across the district under Dr. Hornsby.
But the school board president, Robert Ferrito, no fan of either administrator, fears that those improved scores are the result of teachers being forced to drill students with the tests in mind. The proof of that -- and, by extension, the Hornsby-Williams method -- will become apparent this year, Mr. Ferrito said.
Mr. Williams's contract on Long Island, as at Lincoln, is for one year, but he said he had no problem with these short-term assignments, traveling from district to district as a quick-change man.
'If I've done my job, it shouldn't matter who the administrator at Lincoln is now,' he said, 'because the parents, students and teachers have taken ownership of the school themselves. That's the only way that the school was going to change -- or ever would have changed -- is if people become part of the process.' CLAUDIA ROWE
July 30, 2000Struggling to Fill a Gap in the Education Budget
By ROBERT WORTH
SCHOOL budgets rarely become the talk of the town. But the impending budget crisis has been Topic A in Yonkers since May, when the former schools superintendent, Dr. Andre J. Hornsby, warned that the gap between what the schools requested -- $353 million -- and what the city was offering -- $327 million -- could force devastating cuts in programs and hundreds of layoffs.
The crisis coincides with the district's June announcement of gains in student test scores. Unless the district finds a way to fill the gap, those gains could be reversed, said Ellis Cousens, a school board member.
After Dr. Hornsby accused Mayor John D. Spencer and the City Council of shortchanging the schools, the school board fired him in June, at the mayor's urging. Since then, interim Superintendent Joseph Farmer, a former teacher and principal in the district, has struggled to fill the gap.
In mid-July he announced that he had shaved the shortfall to $16 million from $26 million by cutting some long-standing programs, like the visual and fine arts program, and some new ones, including an alternative program for troubled children.
He also borrowed money to pay for $3.8 million in books and equipment.
Last week Mr. Farmer proposed a state-financed retirement incentive plan, which could save the district several million more, he said. Under the plan, veteran teachers would receive a financial incentive to retire early and would be replaced by new teachers whose salaries would be lower.
'We are hoping those with the purse strings will revisit their budgets,' Mr. Farmer said, 'because we have effectively reduced the gap by $16 million.'
The mayor has asked the Yonkers Federation of Teachers to defer the raise it negotiated last fall. Steve Frey, the president of the 2,200-member federation, said he is considering it. City officials also hope to rectify an inequity in the state's school aid formula, which they say shortchanges Yonkers.
And the mayor has pressed hard for a settlement of the city's longstanding federal desegregation order, which could help provide a longer-term remedy for the district's financial woes.
Officials say the shortfall has various causes, including a rise in city spending and the loss of state aid for court-ordered education programs. ROBERT WORTH
June 21, 2000Our Towns; In Yonkers, Leadership By Dismissal
By MATTHEW PURDY, NY TIMES
MAYOR JOHN SPENCER picks up a magazine in his office featuring a picture of Gen. Colin Powell and says: 'That's what we need, leadership. For presidents, mayors, superintendents.'
The mayor thought he had found his brand of leadership in Andre J. Hornsby, who was recruited from Houston two years ago as the first black superintendent of the perennially struggling Yonkers schools. Some saw him as arrogant and autocratic, but Dr. Hornsby wasn't afraid of taking on tough issues, and results were beginning to show in increased reading scores. But, Mr. Spencer said, 'He changed.' And so, in an outcome some here liken to the break-up of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Rudy Crew, Dr. Hornsby was fired last week by a school board Mr. Spencer controls.
All roads in Yonkers seem to lead to the 15-year-old federal court finding of segregation in schools and housing, which has shaped the script of recent history in Yonkers. In the case of the fired superintendent, that road is exceedingly short.
In the mayor's view, the superintendent became too enamored of the court-ordered desegregation plan. When an appeals court overturned the plan last year, the mayor cheered, but the superintendent wanted to go back to court to urge that it be reinstated to cure 'vestiges' of racial inequality. Dr. Hornsby, who has not spoken publicly since his dismissal, wasn't necessarily committed to the segregation designation. But he did want the $1.2 billion that the state and city would be forced to pay to finance the plan over 10 years.
But the mayor, who is white, deplores the segregation label sewn to his city many years ago. 'Don't play that racism card, when none exists,' he said.
Many supporters and detractors of Dr. Hornsby say his firing was not about race, noting that his temporary replacement is black. But for some, the episode recalls the defiance of the 80's, when City Council members endured a contempt ruling rather than carry out the court's housing plan.
'I think he wants to paint a picture that he's comfortable with,' Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator, said of Mr. Spencer, 'that the city has gotten rid of all the problems with race and we're just moving forward as one big happy family.'
In the view of Yonkers's leadership, the court order was always a spectacle, and an expensive one at that. It was imposed by outsiders, primarily government officials and Judge Leonard B. Sand of the United States District Court, and perpetuated by lawyers like Michael H. Sussman, the Orange County lawyer who represents the local N.A.A.C.P. The two-term Republican mayor lists among his accomplishments the dissolution of a state financial control board that monitored city government, and he saw Dr. Hornsby as a partner in delivering the state's fourth-largest school system back to local control as well.
But some of the old issues intervened, even as people said they weren't there.
Board lawyers prepared a brief showing that while the percentage of minority-group members has increased, from less than 50 percent in the 1980's to 75 percent of the 26,000 students now, black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in advanced classes and overrepresented in disciplinary actions. When the board kept the brief from being filed in court, it was leaked to the N.A.A.C.P., which used it to make a case for continuing the desegregation plan. Dr. Hornsby, who said he needed the money the court order would have assured, questioned the commitment of city officials to education.
IT was then that Dr. Hornsby appeared to some as another outsider. 'It was an attack on my city,' said Thomas Weibrecht, a school board member and Yonkers's capital projects administrator.
But the Rev. Luther Evans of the Community Memorial Baptist Church sees city officials attacking the schools. 'He doesn't care about these kids because they're minority kids,' he said of the mayor.
Meanwhile, the mayor points out that taxes are increasing next year, partly to keep education spending high even as he says the state shirks its duty. The schools face a $24 million shortfall next year, and some officials predict hundreds of layoffs.
'I think it's a very sad place we are at,' said Maria Chiulli, the school board vice-president who supported Dr. Hornsby.
Yonkers is in need of leadership. Here's how Mr. Spencer employed what he calls the Colin Powell style of leadership -- leading by building coalitions: He approached his appointees on the board and built a coalition for ousting the superintendent. 'I didn't do anything,' he said. 'I just called for his head and went silent.' YouTube video - FBI Surveillance
June 20, 2000Yonkers Debates Firing of Schools Chief
By KATE ZERNIKE, NY TIMES
As black clergy and political leaders in Yonkers prepared to protest the firing of the city's first black schools superintendent, others yesterday debated whether the dispute that had led to his firing had to do with race or simply with money.
The city's school board fired the superintendent, Andre J. Hornsby, on Friday, at the height of his months-long battle with Mayor John Spencer over whether the city should remain under a court-ordered desegregation program.
Led by the minister of the Messiah Baptist Church, some black residents vowed to risk arrest by demonstrating outside City Hall tomorrow.
The mayor, some critics said, was trying to appeal to white voters by effectively ignoring a school system with a minority population that had increased to about 75 percent from 35 percent over the last 16 years.
'Andre Hornsby was brought in because he was an African-American educator who the mayor thought would be his front person to return to neighborhood schools,' said Michael Sussman, a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The N.A.A.C.P. is contending in a court appeal that the schools are still suffering from the effects of segregation.
'He was a black face,' Mr. Sussman said, 'and he could front the end of this case because how could anybody oppose what the first black superintendent had done? But now they see Andre Hornsby isn't going to pipe down and play their tune, so they fired him.'
The school board fired Dr. Hornsby in a 5-to-3 vote and appointed a former city official and high school principal who is black, Joseph Farmer, as interim superintendent. Darryl George, a Baptist minister, told his congregation on Sunday that the city was merely trying to appease black residents by appointing a black man to the position.
Dr. Hornsby was fired after months of making public statements that the schools were still racially segregated, a position directly opposite the mayor's.
A year ago, a federal court ruled that there was not enough evidence to show that discrimination was behind a gap in test scores between black and white students. As a result, the state cut $47 million that it had been required to pay for programs ordered by a 1986 court ruling in which Yonkers was found to have segregated minority children to poorer schools.
Dr. Hornsby, who arrived in Yonkers in 1998, wanted to appeal the decision so the schools could get money from the state and the city, which the court also ruled was responsible for ending the segregation.
The mayor was eager to rid the city of the federal control and the stigma of the desegregation order. At his urging, and against Dr. Hornsby's recommendation, the school board voted not to appeal the case. Its lawyers had prepared a report outlining vestiges of segregation in the city's schools, but the board declined to submit that report to the court. The report was then leaked to the N.A.A.C.P., which used it to argue its appeal.
Dr. Hornsby had derided the mayor publicly in recent months, saying Mr. Spencer did not support the schools. That open combativeness, and not racism, others said, led to his dismissal.
'This was certainly not a fight about race,' said Raymond P. Fitzpatrick Jr., a lawyer who represents the city. 'There are apparently legitimate differences between the superintendent and the board about how to manage the school system. The city continues to believe it's time for federal court intervention to end.'
Mr. Fitzpatrick said the city planned to continue the programs put in place under the desegregation order. Michael M. Weibrecht, a school board member, said the most important task facing the board, even before finding a new superintendent, was coming up with a workable budget.
Dr. Hornsby, both men said, had shown that he could not work cooperatively with the board and the mayor on that task. In addition, he had lost the support of the teachers' union during a protracted strike this year. The teachers objected to Dr. Hornsby's plan to impose a schedule made up of 90-minute blocks, instead of the traditional 45-minute periods.