The president of LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the school sales division of the company that makes the popular LeapPad learning device, resigned Dec. 14 after federal investigators questioned whether a $1 million contract awarded to the company stemmed from an improper relationship between a Maryland superintendent and one of its top salespeople.
Bob Lally stepped down in response to what company officials called “an internal investigation under LeapFrog’s code of conduct” stemming from a personal relationship between a LeapFrog sales executive, Sienna Owens, and embattled Prince George’s County, Md., schools chief Andre Hornsby.
In October, The Baltimore Sun reported that Hornsby was living with Owens while the company was seeking to win a $1 million deal with the district. Despite the couple’s admitted relationship, Hornsby said, Owens was not directly involved in the sale and had no sway over the district’s decision to sign with LeapFrog.
Earlier this month, the school board’s ethics panel cleared Hornsby of any ethical wrongdoing in the matter, but the decision did little to persuade company executives from calling for Lally’s ouster.
“Although we are disappointed and saddened by this development, we take our code of conduct very seriously and believe we have expeditiously addressed this event,” said LeapFrog Enterprises Chief Executive Officer Tom Kalinske in a statement. “We remain committed to the vision of LeapFrog SchoolHouse and have taken actions to reinforce the division’s solid reputation in the education industry.”
At press time, it remained unclear how much Lally knew about Hornsby’s relationship with Owens and what role, if any, he played in attempting to cover up ethical violations on behalf of the company during negotiations.
LeapFrog did not immediately respond to telephone calls from an eSchool News reporter, but LeapFrog spokeswoman Cherie Stewart told The Sun on Dec. 14 that the company would not comment on the details of the investigation while it is still ongoing. The company also did not say whether any disciplinary action would be taken against Owens or the saleswoman who received a commission from the deal, according to the paper.
Jesse Wooley-Wilson, vice president of marketing for LeapFrog’s SchoolHouse division, has been tapped to replace Lally as vice president of the company’s Education and Training Group. The company has yet to name a new LeapFrog SchoolHouse president.
Lally is the second high-profile educational CEO to step down since the federal probe into Hornsby’s dealings with school system vendors began. In November, former PLATO Learning CEO John Murray also resigned his post. (See “PLATO Learning chief resigns“).
Though PLATO executives called Murray’s resignation a “mutual decision” on behalf of Murray and a board of directors looking to move the company in a new direction, the announcement came shortly after questions arose surrounding Hornsby and his alleged ties to PLATO, which included a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa. Hornsby reportedly went on the trip as president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), an organization sponsored in part by PLATO.
Despite news of the federal probe, PLATO executives said the change in leadership had nothing to do with any suggestion of impropriety by the company. PLATO spokeswoman Terri Reden said it was NASBE’s decision to use a portion of PLATO’s sponsorship to finance the trip for members of its leadership.