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Lennard case spurs conflict policy review

Hillsborough school officials said Tuesday they are revamping the school system's conflict of interest procedures because of recent questions about the superintendent's son doing business with a high school.

The announcement came during a tense School Board discussion led by board member Doris Ross Reddick. She was concerned about Alafia Logic Inc., a computer company formed in March by Riverview High media specialist Jeremy Lennard and three other school district employees. Lennard is the son of school superintendent Earl Lennard.

The main point of contention: how the company could begin a $1,800 software project at the South County Career Center before it disclosed its conflict of interest.

Board members became aware of the situation last week when they received written disclosures from the younger Lennard and his partners.

Reddick, who said she received an "extreme" number of questions from constituents, called it a horrible discrepancy.

In response to Reddick's questions, the elder Lennard said any potential conflicts of interest will now come to the board before companies are placed on the vendor list, not afterwards.

"The present procedure will absolutely be changed," he said.

"I'm not going to debate the answer," Reddick said. "But it doesn't completely satisfy me."

Willie Campbell, the district's manager of purchasing, said the company did what it was supposed to do when it notified him in May of its intent to do business with the district and about Jeremy Lennard's relation to the superintendent. But previous procedures didn't require written disclosures about conflicts of interest until payment was requested for services. Alafia Logic has yet to be paid for its work.

Campbell said he should have sought written disclosure sooner from Jeremy Lennard.

"I didn't place the right priority on this," he told Reddick.

"So in other words, it's your fault?" Reddick asked.

"Yes ma'am," Campbell said.

But the superintendent came to Campbell's defense. He said he takes "responsibility for what has occurred and will take whatever consequences."

Dozens of school employees have filed conflict of interest disclosures with the district. They range from the son of the district's director of planning being employed by an architectural firm that does business with the district to teachers who have written teacher training books.

In other business:

+ The board accepted a report on the school system's small and minority business enterprise program that showed minority participation has jumped from $25.6-million in 1999-2000 to $38.3-million last school year.

The program, which aims to help minorities get work on school construction and renovation projects, came under scrutiny last year after questions were raised about its hiring of minority consultants. One company was paid both as a consultant and a subcontractor.

The Rev. Paul Matthews, first vice president of the local NAACP, applauded the district for boosting its minority participation in the construction area. But he said some district officials are throwing roadblocks in the way, preventing goods and services from being purchased from minority firms.

"There seems to be people who are not hearing the direction of the board and the superintendent," Matthews said. "We just want the field to be more level."

+ The board elected Carol Kurdell as chairwoman and Glenn Barrington as vice chairman.

+ The board named a new elementary school in the university area after civic activist and former educator Barbara Muller. The school opens in the fall.

+ The board denied one charter school application and approved four others, all of which plan to serve disabled and at-risk children. Approved were the Anderson Elementary Academy, Center Academy, Prince Community Academy and the Wilbesan Charter School. The board turned down Dulaney Educational Institute's third application after administrators questioned the school's proposed budget, among other concerns.

+ The board suspended Young Middle School reading teacher Andrew Jacobs, 49, who was recently arrested and charged with felony aggravated battery. They also suspended school bus rider Clem Bowick, 47, who was arrested in October and charged with felony drug possession.

They fired bus driver Marsha VanBlarcom, 27, after she tested positive for cocaine.

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