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DeKalb superintendent finalist didn’t disclose consulting work on economic interest forms

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DeKalb superintendent finalist didn’t disclose consulting work on economic interest forms

Dr. Devon Horton, the sole finalist for DeKalb County School District Superintendent, speaks during a town hall at the DeKalb County School District administrative and instructional complex in Stone Mountain on Friday, April 14, 2023. This was the third of three town halls hosted by the school board to introduce Dr. Horton. Photo by Dean Hesse.

By Tom Hayden, contributor 

Evanston, Ill — The finalist to be DeKalb County’s next superintendent is facing new questions about his time as superintendent of Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

Records show that Dr. Devon Horton formed a consulting firm and did work for it while serving as superintendent of the district. During a town hall on April 14, Horton told Decaturish that his employers knew about his work at the time.

“We have a process where we have to report … if we work secondary employment with our boss, and so my [school board] president was aware of the work that I was doing, and it was done during my own time off. So, I think that’s not something that was problematic, it was legitimate, and it was done and the board was aware of it.”

However, the work was not listed on statement of economic interest forms filed with the state of Illinois. Records also indicate that the work was done on days school was in session in District 65.

On Oct. 6, 2020, the Wall Street Journal featured an article on Evanston and Dr. Horton, “Can School be ‘Antiracist’? A New Superintendent in Evanston, Ill., Has a Plan.” Dr. Horton had only been in office for three months but offered a grand vision for recreating the Evanston public schools.

Nine days after the story, on October 16, 2020, Dr. Horton filed Articles of Incorporation with the Illinois Secretary of State to start a company, Altering the Education XPectation LLC. Dr. Horton, the sole owner, describes the firm’s mission as “to infuse our educational institutions with highly skilled leaders that effectively leads through systemic equitable practices.”

Invoices obtained via records request indicate that from November 2021 through May 2022, he rendered consulting services to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) while Evanston Superintendent. Invoices for these services detail work such as “Instructional Leadership Executive Coaching,” “Teacher Professional Development on Equity,” and “MTSS Professional Development.” 

According to the invoices, the training sessions he offered to CPS were on District 65 School days, such as May 4, 2022, or May 11, 2022. In total, he invoiced and was paid $32,500 for this work. According to Illinois state records, the firm was dissolved in April 2022, but he continued to receive income after that date.

District 65 has indirectly promoted his firm. For instance, on the website promoting the teacher residency program, CREATE65, the videos are hosted on the Altering the Education XPectation YouTube Channel instead of the official District channel. 

Dr. Horton has a long connection to Chicago Public Schools. Before he was a superintendent, from 2010 to 2014, he was a Vice Principal and Principal at Wendell Phillips Academy in CPS. Wendell Phillips was part of the Academy of Urban Leadership (AUSL), a non-profit organization that operated turnaround programs at 30 Chicago Public Schools. 

This consulting arrangement appears to conflict with the District’s policies regarding outside work. Section 5:120 of the District 65 Board Policies (on page 143 of the PDF) states, “Employees shall not engage in any other employment or private business during regular working hours or at such other times as are necessary to fulfill appropriate assigned duties.” Decaturish asked the Evanston School Board for comment on March 30 and again on April 13 and didn’t receive a reply.

The State of Illinois has reporting requirements for public officials, including Dr. Horton.

Dr. Horton is required to submit a Statement of Economic Interests (SEI) form that discloses all economic relationships. In both his 2021 and 2022 filings, he omitted this information

One question on the disclosure form asks the filer to, “List the name of each unit of government of which you or your spouse were an employee, contractor, or office holder during the preceding calendar year other than the unit or units of government in relation to which the person is required to file and the title of the position or nature of the contractual services.” 

Dr. Horton left this question blank. 

The report is one of several questions raised about Dr. Horton’s work in Evanston, which he has been answering in a series of town halls with parents.  To read our write-up of the first town hall, click here. To read more about his work in Evanston, click here.

The school board meets on April 17 and may vote on Dr. Horton’s contract at that meeting, but there have been attempts to derail his candidacy and keep current interim superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley.

Tinsley took over after the school board abruptly fired Cheryl Watson-Harris and is favored by certain members of the school board, notably Dr. Joyce Morley who made her opinions known to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She’s been openly supported by former board chair Vickie Turner as well. State Sen. Emanuel Jones also released a statement, before Horton was announced, endorsing Tinsley remaining as superintendent.

On Friday, state school Superintendent Richard Woods voiced his support for keeping Tinsley in a letter to the board. Woods is a Republican, and the local Republican Party is also vocally opposed to hiring him.

If the board were to reverse course and vote against hiring Horton, it could potentially expose the board to more litigation. In 2020, the board selected Rudy Crew as a finalist for the job, only to decide against approving his contract, a decision that proved costly. Crew filed suit and in the end, the district paid him a $750,000 settlement. In his lawsuit, Crew cited remarks by Dr. Morley about Crew’s late wife being white.

Editor’s note: Tom Hayden publishes the FOIA Gras Substack newsletter. Decaturish is paying Hayden as a freelancer for this report. Whenever possible, this article includes links to public records uncovered in his reporting. 

Contributor Mary Margaret Stewart and Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed reporting to this story. 

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