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Friday, August 15, 1997

Eldorado dean's past scrutinized

A Clark County school official faces felony charges in Chicago after he was fired in a spending scandal.

By Steve Friess

A Las Vegas high school dean, hired last year, was fired from the Chicago Public Schools in 1995 amid allegations he pocketed school money and spent some of it on a trip to a Wisconsin dog track.

Eddie L. Washington, dean of Eldorado High School, faces a dozen felony charges in Illinois, including four counts of official misconduct, two counts of theft under $100,000 and six counts of forgery. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Aug. 28 in Cook County District Court.

Court documents from Chicago explaining the reasoning behind each charge could not be obtained Thursday.

Washington, reached by phone in his Eldorado office Thursday, denied he is the same man charged in Chicago. "I have no idea what you're speaking of," he said before hanging up.

As a dean, Washington is one of two administrators at the school responsible for handling student disciplinary matters.

His past jobs and their dates, listed on a sheet given to the Clark County School Board when it voted to hire him, are the same as details published in Chicago newspaper accounts of the scandal. The names of past schools and positions are identical.

Washington, 46, was dismissed in December 1995 along with more than 30 other officials in a housecleaning that Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas called "the biggest crackdown in the history of the system."

An audit of the South Side high school where Washington was principal for the 1993-94 year found a long list of questionable expenditures, Chicago schools chief investigator Maribeth Vander Weele said Thursday.

Among them were student funds spent on a $270 leather jacket, a $348 cellular phone bill, and a $5,617 staff appreciation lunch and gifts to staff, Vander Weele said. The audit alleged that Class of 1994 funds were used for a trip for 25 people to a dog track in Kenosha, Wis.; that girls' basketball money paid off bar tabs; and that undisclosed sums were deposited into private checking accounts, she said.

Auditors also found $7,972 in unexplained account shortfalls and were frustrated by missing receipts for thousands of dollars in concession sales, Vander Weele said.

"We would not want any school district to hire an individual like Dr. Washington without the necessary information," Vander Weele said. "Obviously we wish the Las Vegas school district had had this information when hiring Dr. Washington."

Clark County officials said the standard FBI background check on the dean came up clean when he was hired in May 1996. He started work in Las Vegas at Cannon Middle School in August, and he was indicted on Sept. 26 in Chicago.

The Clark County School District suspended Washington in October in connection with dishonesty on an application. But the dean was reinstated in December and assigned to Eldorado after the district's lawyers warned he would be owed back pay plus interest if he won his arbitration case, sources said.

An arbitrator ruled this spring that Washington had not lied and could not be fired on those grounds, according to district sources and the June issue of the administrators union's newsletter. District general counsel William Hoffman declined comment because the arbitration process is a confidential personnel matter, he said.

"The bottom line is, there is absolutely nothing pending in the Clark County School District on (Washington) at this time," said Allin Chandler, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators. "There are unresolved issues regarding his employment in Chicago, and they may eventually have some bearing on his employment here."

If Washington were convicted of a felony, the district would have the legal right to dismiss him immediately by state law.

Superintendent Brian Cram declined comment on Washington's case, speaking in generalities about district hiring policies.

"It is not our practice to hire employees who have serious disciplinary infractions in other districts," Cram said. "We would not employ anyone whose fingerprint checks showed criminal violations. And, in general, our practice with all employees is if we get unsatisfactory references, we don't hire them. We proceed on the assumption that districts will indicate to us major infractions and violations of employees who serve with them."

Vander Weele said she could not explain why Clark County schools did not find out Washington's background.

"Had anyone contacted my office, I certainly would have provided this information to any potential employer," Vander Weele said. "It is public information. We regret that whomever they contacted did not provide the appropriate information."

This is the second job Washington has held outside the Chicago school system since the investigation into his conduct began. By the time Vallas fired him in 1995, he already had landed a post as assistant professor of education at Chicago State University. Washington left his Chicago State job for Las Vegas eight months later.


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