Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No Wonder Our Schools Are So Bad.

How else do you explain such nonsense as the illegal kickbacks (allegedly) given to former Prince Georges County (MD) superintendent of schools Andre Hornsby?

Jurors in the federal corruption trial of Andre J. Hornsby watched a video yesterday of the former Prince George's County schools chief seeming alternately relaxed and wary as he accepted a cash payment -- a kickback, prosecutors allege -- from an associate in a Bowie hotel room in the final days of 2004.

The video of an encounter in room 222 at a Comfort Inn shows Cynthia Joffrion placing bills on a table in front of Hornsby on Dec. 20, 2004. "Okay," she said, "if I give you 1,000 now that means I only owe you 144,000?"

"Whatever," Hornsby replied, picking up the cash and stuffing it in his shirt pocket.

Hornsby, 54, is accused of steering to Joffrion a consulting contract to help the school system secure funds under a federal program known as E-Rate. Prosecutors allege that the agreement was to net Hornsby $145,000 in kickbacks.

Hornsby is also accused of arranging for the school system to purchase nearly $1 million in educational technology from a company where his then-girlfriend, Sienna Owens, worked as a sales representative. Prosecutors allege that Hornsby and Owens split a $20,000 commission she received because of the sale.
I can't directly embed the video, you'll have to click on the link below to view the whole thing. The clip is unintentional comedy along the lines of the infamous Marion Barry "the b**** set me up!!!" video.

And yes, in Hornsby's case, the chick did indeed set him up.
Joffrion has known Hornsby for years and worked with him when he was a superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y. In one telephone conversation, the two discussed ways in which Joffrion might disguise payments to Hornsby, according to a transcript that memorialized the exchange this way:

"Let's buy a piece of antiques or some [bleep] like that," Joffrion said.

"That's the best way," Hornsby replied.

"Um. Where do you buy your antiques from?" Joffrion asked.

"You buy 'em [bleeping] anywhere," Hornsby replied.

Joffrion asked: "Why are you whispering? You're making me paranoid."

"Cindy," Hornsby responded, "these mother [bleepers] were following me tonight."

If you're unaware, PG County is the richest majority black jurisdiction in America, a bedroom community of DC with a population of nearly 900,000. Black millionaires are plentiful there, but the school system is still in shambles. A new superintendent is bought in to fix the mess seemingly every other year, yet standardized test scores still consistently rank near the bottom statewide, just above the infamous Baltimore City school district. You know, that same Baltimore City school district chronicled on Season Four of HBO's brilliant crime drama The Wire. Yeah, PG schools are just a slight step up from that mess.

The richest majority black enclave and the schools still suck. Chew on that one.

I'm getting intimately familiar with the PG County school system now that I'm a mentor/tutor and our program involves weekly one hour sessions on the premises during school hours. I've made a few visits to AverageMentee's classroom thus far, and while I've been impressed with the facilities and the level of dedication his teachers are providing, numbers don't lie. Half the black kids in his 3rd grade class can't even read at grade level. Of course, I'm trying to do my part to help out, but I wonder just how much of an impact I can make if things are so perpetually screwed up at the top of the food chain.

I know that Black kids aren't intellectually inferior to Asians or Whites. I also know that parents who stress the importance of education generally have kids who perform well in school. So, it seems logical to assume that kids being raised by the greatest concentration of educated and wealthy black parents in the nation would be doing very well in school, but they aren't. Emphatically not.

How else do you explain the fact that in this majority black enclave, black boys are reading worse than any other demographic subgroup? Yes, even Hispanics, who have their obvious issue of ESL. And no, the lil' sistas aren't faring much better. This achievement gap, of course isn't unique to PG County, it's a national problem, but you probably didn't even know that since we're more worried about trivial shit like nooses and washed up talk radio hosts.

Where the hell is the march for that one? I'm waitin' Rebb'n Al, but I won't hold my breath. I know you have other, more pressing issues on your plate. Like that side of rib tips.

None of this really adds up, but part of me wonders if this county, intent on flexing it's relatively new (PG was majority white just a decade or so ago) political muscle just hired dudes like Hornsby without giving all candidates, regardless of race, a fair shake. As in many majority black cities/jurisdictions across the nation, PG sees having blacks in positions of power as being a necessity, and thus most high level political appointees (like schools superintendent and chief of police) generally tend to be black.

I'm not saying these black candidates aren't always qualified, but Hornsby came to town with a spotty track record from his two prior jobs in New York City. There, he had been accused of improperly taking a golf trip and a hand-held computer from companies that did business with his school system. But of course, since PG seems to be all about keeping up appearances, they hired the guy anyway. Lo and behold, he didn't even last two years on the gig before being unceremoniously ushered out for the very same sorta thing.

I don't pretend to know how difficult it is to hire a superintendent of schools, but chances are, where there's smoke, there's fire. PG County schools conveniently overlooked this and just ended up getting burned yet again.

After years and years of apparently hiring folks just cause they're black (yeah, I said it), the school system seemingly broke with their sullied tradition and (allegedly) hired the best man for the job this time. Surprise of all surprises, he just happens to be white.

I wish him the best, for the sake of AverageMentee, and the county as a whole.

Prosecutors Contend That Video Shows Hornsby Taking Kickback [WashingtonPost]

PG County Wiki [WikiPedia]

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