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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Hornsby's relationship questioned

From: Jacob Andoh
Date: Tue Nov 23, 2004 9:56 am
Subject: Fwd: Hornsby's relationship questioned

Note: forwarded message attached

From: TRSYM@aol.com
Date: Tue Nov 23, 2004 9:21 am
Subject: Fwd: Hornsby's relationship questioned
To: jyandoh@yahoo.com

This is the latest Baltimore Sun article on the Hornsby investigation.

From: trsym@aol.com
Date: Tue Nov 23, 2004 9:12 am
Subject: Hornsby's relationship questioned
To: trsym@aol.com

This story was sent to you by: Tonya Wingfield
Hornsby's relationship questioned

Girlfriend was promoted months after firm's deal with Prince George's school chief

By Alec MacGillis
Sun Staff

November 23, 2004

Two months after the Prince George's County school system made a large purchase from the education technology firm LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the company gave a major promotion to the county schools chief's girlfriend, the company has confirmed.

LeapFrog SchoolHouse's chief executive said the August promotion of Sienna Owens from the Virginia sales territory to a national sales position was unrelated to the $1 million purchase of LeapFrog materials in June by Prince George's schools superintendent Andre J. Hornsby, which is now under scrutiny by state and federal investigators.

In an interview at a Dallas convention this past weekend that was attended by Hornsby, 51, and Owens, 26, LeapFrog Schoolhouse CEO Bob Lally repeated earlier assertions that Owens was not involved in the deal, one of the largest in the company's history.

But Lally's confirmation of the promotion diverges from accounts in recent weeks by company officials, Owens and Hornsby, which all stated that her sales were limited exclusively to Virginia and which made no mention of the promotion. While state and county officials assessing the propriety of Prince George's purchase have questioned Hornsby's judgment in failing to disclose that he lived with a LeapFrog employee, they often pointed to her seemingly limited company role to show there might not have been an outright conflict of interest.

Yesterday, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat who has criticized the deal, said that news of Owens' promotion after the sale made him more concerned about Hornsby's dealings with LeapFrog SchoolHouse.

Whether or not Owens benefited directly from the LeapFrog deal, Pinsky said, her promotion to a national sales position raised new questions in light of Hornsby's role as an influential superintendent of a prominent district.

With educational connections around the country, Hornsby is in an ideal position to encourage LeapFrog sales in Prince George's and beyond, Pinsky said.

"She has a relationship with someone who is so significant nationally," he said. "Whether or not she got remuneration [from the Prince George's sale], there are lots of ways to get remuneration. It comes back to her in her next job."

Hornsby's dealings with education vendors, disclosed by The Sun last month, are now the subject of investigations by the Maryland state prosecutor's office and the FBI and Maryland U.S. attorney.

Besides the LeapFrog deal, investigators are scrutinizing Hornsby's relationship with the software company Plato Learning, which paid for Hornsby to attend a 10-day trip to South Africa last year with the National Alliance of Black School Educators, and which is now seeking a major deal in Prince George's.

Hornsby, who declined another request for an interview over the weekend, has said through a spokeswoman that the county's dealings with Plato Learning have not been influenced by the South Africa trip, on which he was accompanied by Owens and several Plato executives. Likewise, a schools spokeswoman has said that the purchase of early literacy technology from LeapFrog was not linked to Hornsby's relationship with Owens.

Owens, who did not return a call seeking comment last night, has previously said she did not have anything to do with the sale to Prince George's, and did not receive any commission on it. The saleswoman who LeapFrog says handled the sale, Debora Adam, has said she received the full commission for it, estimated to be about $40,000. Lally, the CEO, has said he could not comment on what happened to the commission after the company paid Adam.

In an interview at last weekend's annual convention of the National Alliance of Black School Educators in Dallas, Lally said LeapFrog hired Owens last winter to sell to Virginia schools. He said she was promoted in August to a new position as a national "strategic account manager" responsible for promoting sales in large districts, mostly on the East Coast.

Lally said that Owens' salary -- which, if in line with equivalent industry
positions would be about $100,000 plus annual bonuses -- would be based on the company's nationwide sales performance. However, he said the company deliberately has excluded any future Prince George's revenues from its formula for Owens' compensation, in acknowledgment of her relationship with Hornsby.

"We specifically modified her agreement and carved out Prince George's County to make sure there's no appearance of conflict of interest," Lally said.

There was little sign of such precautions at the four-day Dallas convention, where Hornsby and representatives of LeapFrog and Plato, including Owens, were seen mingling at several company-sponsored cocktail receptions at the convention hotel. Such corporate receptions for school administrators are common at education conventions, but Pinsky said it was disappointing that Hornsby had chosen to attend events paid for by those companies now being scrutinized in connection with the county.

"You have to go out of your way to be clean and appear to be clean," Pinsky

Many members of the black educator alliance, which Hornsby headed between 2001 and last year, were quick to come to their colleague's defense. Lois Harrison Jones, another past president of the group, speculated that Hornsby was continuing to associate with the two companies as a way of publicly maintaining the innocence of his dealings with them. Jones said she was inclined to think Hornsby did nothing wrong.

"He is very savvy politically, and I have reason to believe that he'd be smart enough to know that [a misdeed] would be uncovered," said Jones, a professor at Howard University and former head of Boston schools. "I can't imagine he would assume that the [Prince George's] school board would allow that type of action and that the public would accept it."

Copyright (c) 2004, The Baltimore Sun

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