Ethics Complaint Submitted Over Kensington Principal’s Work as Weichert Realtor
Parent takes issue with principal's real estate work for school employees
Screenshot of online petition launched by Kensington parent Anthony Bonetti
A local parent has filed an ethics complaint with the county school system against the principal of Kensington Parkwood Elementary School for handling real estate transactions for her employees.
The complaint mailed last week asserts that 10-year Principal Barbara Liess created a potential conflict of interest by taking on fellow Montgomery County Public Schools employees as clients in her second job as a real estate agent.
"I just found that to be quite troubling," said former parent-teacher association president Anthony Bonetti, who filed the complaint and whose fifth-grade daughter attends the school.
Bonetti also called for an investigation by the school system into whether Liess, a former agent for Weichert in Bethesda, closed on property sales during school days or otherwise let her second job interfere with her role as principal.
Liess announced in December that she was giving up her real estate license, after Bonetti began raising his concerns about a conflict of interest. However, Bonetti filed the complaint because he contends the school system never addressed the underlying ethical problems.
In response to Bonetti’s claims, an MCPS spokesman said the system holds employees to the highest standards.
“This means not just adhering to our ethics policy and our conflict of interest regulation, but also acting in the interest of the community when there are concerns about even the appearance of a conflict,” spokesman Derek Turner wrote in an email. “We believe Principal Liess did just that when she terminated her real estate license once the community expressed concerns.”
Liess' second job came to Bonetti's attention when a parent complained the principal seemed distracted by her real estate work. Bonetti, who was leading the school’s PTA at the time, said he and other parents were frustrated by Liess' lack of responsiveness to questions.
Bonetti said he confronted Liess about her second job and, feeling like he'd gotten nowhere, took his qualms to the principal’s supervisor.
On Dec. 16, Liess sent students home with a letter acknowledging that she'd worked as a Realtor for two years and had represented MCPS staff and current and former Kensington Parkwood Elementary employees. She wrote she'd always held a second job to make ends meet as a single mother and had become a real estate agent after seeking advice from her administrative union representatives. At no point did she take leave or use school resources like email or paper for her side job, she wrote.
A few days later, she followed up with an email telling parents that she'd decided to stop working at Weichert.
"I understand my work as a realtor has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest and whether or not I am fully engaged in my work as principal," she wrote. "As a result, I have decided that, effective immediately, I will be suspending my work as a realtor."
Bonetti, who provided copies of both messages written by Liess, in December resigned as PTA president, citing his reluctance to pursue his ethics concerns while maintaining his role with the organization. He’s asking the MCPS ethics panel for a full inquiry into Liess’ actions and whether they complied with standards.
“I don’t feel like a lesson was truly learned here if it was never actually, truly investigated and substantiated,” he said.
Bonetti in December also started an online petition that calls on MCPS to look into the ethics concerns. The petition has 65 signatures.
Turner said the five-member ethics panel gathers on an as-needed basis to review complaints and requests for guidance. MCPS regulations do permit employees to hold an outside job, he said.
However, Bonetti cites ethics rules barring employees from having secondary jobs that could impair their judgment or distract them from their primary duties. He also pointed to an MCPS prohibition on using a public position for private gain.