Largo High School Principal Richmond Myrick Jr. stood at the side of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele at a campaign event last month, an African-American Democrat endorsing the Senate bid of a Republican who is gaining national prominence.
Today, Myrick is off the job. He was suspended by Prince George's County schools officials after an audit raised questions about a deficit of more than $140,000 and more than 100 missing blank school checks, as well as other troubles.
"Wrongdoing has yet to be determined, but the audit certainly found some problems with financial management," said John White, communications officer for the county's public schools. "That audit has a number of things that certainly raise this to another level. And those things are being investigated right now."
The findings, first released to The Washington Post, delivered a blow to the image of Myrick, whose appearance with Steele so impressed conservative journalist Robert Novak that the syndicated writer prominently included the principal in a column about the lieutenant governor's prospects in the Maryland Senate race.
"If enough nonpolitical blacks follow Myrick's course, Steele will become the first black Republican elected to the Senate in [Maryland in] 32 years," Novak wrote.
Cpl. Clinton Copeland of the Prince George's County Police Department said the matter is under investigation by police and that charges have not been filed.
The Steele campaign did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. Myrick could not be reached.
Lewis Howard, the Largo High School athletic director, was also placed on leave, White said. He would not say whether Howard and Myrick were receiving pay during their suspensions, but he said that a final decision about their status would be made when the police investigation is completed. Myrick has been principal since 1989, White said.
The 14-page audit lists a number of findings, including that the school did not send sales tax collections to the state for some items sold there. Auditors also discovered that 30 Motorola cell phones and two computer printers, among other items purchased with student-activity funds, did not appear to have been added to the school's inventory. Deposits were frequently delinquent, as well.
"It is our opinion that the school has failed to comply with policies and procedures of the School Accounting Manual," the audit concludes. "We also believe the internal controls require significant improvement to reach full compliance with the Board of Education policies and procedures."
The Steele event was held May 17 on a parking lot of Prince George's Community College, near Largo High School, in a county that is heavily African-American and Democratic - a point Novak made in his May 29 column. Steele was flanked by Myrick and Assistant Principal Clinton Shands, who also endorsed him.
Steele is a Largo resident and past county GOP chairman. He is hoping that his campaign message of economic empowerment for blacks will resonate with middle- and upper-class Prince George's residents - especially moderates whose support he needs to win.
Steele used the occasion - which was attended by a half-dozen supporters, local print reporters, Novak and a Maryland Democratic Party operative who filmed his speech - to blast the Bush administration for backing the No Child Left Behind education law. And on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregated schools, Steele railed against a public school system that he said does not provide an equal education for all.
"We also have too many schools that are underperforming and that are quite frankly failing our students," Steele said. "... There is inherent disparity in our education system that threatens the very spirit of the Brown decision."
After Steele spoke, Myrick told reporters that he admires Steele.