Washington, D.C., Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92, GRD ’07) is under fire for asking a DCPS food vendor for a donation of $100,000 to the D.C. Public Education Fund two weeks after a lawsuit accused the company of swindling millions of dollars from the school system.
Messages obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act on April 19 revealed the interactions between the chancellor and the contractor accused of embezzling the school system of $16 million in addition to serving spoiled food to students, Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality.
In an email sent September 2013 to the Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality’s president Warren Thompson, Henderson asked for a Round of Applause donation worth $100,000 for the fund’s annual Standing Ovation for D.C. Teachers, a black-tie gala at the Kennedy Center. At the time of the emails, the contract was slated to expire.
“Warren, we’re hoping you come in at A Round of Applause, as we’d love to have a dozen of your team members able to share in celebrating the teachers they support every day,” Henderson wrote.
The solicitation netted a $25,000 donation toward the $700,000 event, raising questions about the ethical implications of the interaction. Current ethical guidelines prohibit city employees from soliciting donations from business to avoid contractors being awarded preferential treatment in exchange for donations.
DCPS Press Secretary Michelle Lerner stressed the D.C. Education Fund is a separate organization from the DCPS, saying Henderson would not have a say in renewing the food contract with Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality.
“The DC Ed Fund, which has raised more than $100 million for DC students, does its best to attract donors to the event, and the chancellor plays an important role in that,” Lerner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “However, there is a firm wall between the management of DCPS contracts and the fundraising of the DC Ed Fund. In particular, the chancellor is not involved in the selection or management of DCPS vendors.”
Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality’s Director of Communications Sara Hess defended the donations, claiming the Chancellor and DCPS posed no conflict of interest.
“We receive many requests for support of charities and other community programs, and we have supported several causes in the DC area including backpack programs, anti-bullying campaigns and the DC Public Education Fund,” Hess wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Neither the Chancellor nor DCPS had jurisdiction over the lawsuit, and it had no impact on our support of community programs.”