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Columbus City School Board Members Push For Clarity, Solutions
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Columbus City Schools board members met with the district’s auditor to discuss the on-going investigation into allegations of attendance rigging.
The Audit and Accountability Committee meeting started out with a statement read by the Columbus City Schools board president Carol Perkins.
Perkins addressed accusations she interfered with the district’s internal audit investigation. District auditors continue to examine attendance records to determine if others were altered to enhance state report cards. Perkins says she has not pushed audit staff to wrap up their inquiry.
“Let me be clear, I have never pressured, put any heat on anyone with respect to the investigation and that any statements made to the contrary are absolutely untrue,” she said.
Perkins’ referred to an article in the Columbus Dispatch in which Internal Auditor Carolyn Smith said she felt pressured to expedite the investigation, a claim Smith maintains.
“And I would just like to say that I stand by the information I shared with the board members,” Smith replied.
“Thank you, Internal Auditor,” Perkins said. “And I, too, stand by the information I just shared with this committee and the public.”
Smith proceeded to brief board members on where the investigation is as of June.
“A review of the school year 2012 information has revealed a pattern change for two of the high schools that we looked at,” Smith said. “Two high schools made retroactive adjustments in February and March of this year instead of the pattern that we have seen in other years in making these adjustments in May or June.”
Smith said a review of 41 students’ records show they were enrolled at the time their attendance was “broken.” The students – from two different schools – were retroactively withdrawn and admitted.
“Office of internal audit is reviewing the information in our possession to continue to identify additional ways the impact, unintended consequences, patterns and trends that students’ altered records may have.”
But the update on the investigation quickly turned to numerous questions from board members about a timeline of events: when did Smith first received information about possible data rigging; when did the state auditor’s office became involved.
“The timeline is important, but also the underlying situation is also important, so I just hope we don’t lose sight of the situation that’s going on in the schools by focusing on the timeline,” Smith said.
But for some committee and school board members, the meeting was the first time – other than media reports – they heard details of the audit.
Committee member Greta Russell asked a couple of times what’s the next step, how does the district move forward.
“What do we do to assure ourselves that this will not happen in school year 2013, that correct procedures have been put in place that will check this?,” Russell asked.
Mention was made of a new data reporting software program, Infinite Campus, which is said to have more controls to prevent fraud.
The committee continues to wait for a final report on the audit. School board President Perkins points out two administrators remain on leave.
“How long will it take to get this information so these folks that are out there have an understanding or idea do they have a job or don’t they have a job?”
Auditor Smith admits the investigation is lengthy and long, “This is bigger than anything than I have been involved in since I have been here.”
And the investigation is big. State Auditor Dave Yost, Thursday, said the issue may not be a local problem, but, instead, a systemic one. There are investigations in Toledo and Cincinnatic.
Yost asked the Ohio Department of Education to direct its employees to preserve all records for further investigation, and he warned against tampering with them.
State Superintendent Stan Heffner has said the probe could lead to criminal charges against educators who committed fraud.