Wednesday, April 16, 2008

MCPS officials investigate possible ethics code violation

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Richard Montgomery’s award-winning principal took sick leave early this week as school officials investigate whether he was improperly moonlighting on school time.

Moreno E. Carrasco is facing allegations that he was conducting private seminars and workshops that conflicted with his public duties.

Brian K. Edwards, chief of staff to Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, confirmed Tuesday the school system is investigating whether Carrasco was ‘‘possibly conducting private business on MCPS time.”

The Board of Education’s code of ethics prohibits school officials from taking jobs that would affect their ‘‘usefulness as employees” or impact their ability to lead.

‘‘We are conducting an investigation and will take appropriate action as warranted,” Edwards said.

Ethics policy is clear that ‘‘you cannot have any outside employment that impinges on your duties as an employee,” he added, but that does not mean employees cannot work on evenings, weekends or take a day of leave.

Carrasco failed to return numerous calls and e-mails seeking comment.

According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, a business named Executive Coaching Services LLC is listed under Carrasco’s home address in Germantown, but is registered to Jeanette Plew. A person who answered the telephone at that address said Plew is Carrasco’s wife.

The Web site reportedly linked to the company has been taken down.

Board of Education member Sharon W. Cox (At large) of Germantown, who chairs the board’s policy committee, said she is aware of the investigation.

‘‘I think the key issue is are you using your position for personal gain or so wrapped up in the other business that you’re not doing your job,” she said.

Carrasco also faces allegations of plagiarism from a competitor.

A lawyer for the Breakthrough Coach, an educational consulting firm, said the company is considering suing Carrasco for allegedly taking its methods and materials.

‘‘Based on the similarity of name, similarity of content, similarity of materials and methods used, we began to review what our legal options might be,” Jonathan C. Drimmer, a lawyer with Steptoe and Johnson, the Washington, D.C., firm that represents Breakthrough Coach, said.

According to Drimmer, Carrasco attended one of his client’s seminars, noting Executive Coaching Services has titles similar to his client’s company, such as the ‘‘Breakthrough Principal” seminar.

Parents of Richard Montgomery High School students say they find the allegations hard to swallow.

John F. Hall Jr., a former member of the Rockville City Council and a parent of a junior at the school, called Carrasco a ‘‘credit to Montgomery County Public Schools.”

‘‘I think [he] is a fine principal,” Hall said.

He said he would only see Carrasco’s consulting business as a conflict of interest if it were taking away from his ‘‘primary responsibilities” as principal, but does not believe that to be true.

Hall also called the plagiarism allegations ‘‘non-specific.”

‘‘So far, I haven’t seen any evidence of a crime,” said Hall, an attorney who works for NASA. ‘‘It’s very odd.”

Kate Savage, president of the Richard Montgomery PTSA, said she has ‘‘obvious concerns.”

She said she spoke with Carrasco April 4 about the matter.

‘‘He said he was not aware of it being a conflict of interest and, if it was a school day, he had taken personal leave,” she said regarding the alleged seminars.

Carrasco was named 2007 Principal of the Year for Maryland by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and has been principal of Richard Montgomery since 2003.

Assistant Principal Veronica McCall was serving as acting principal in Carrasco’s absence.