Columbus City Schools Superintendent: Did Not Order Data Rigging

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Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris would not say whether she will resign if a state investigation reveals attendance data fraud.(Photo: Colubmbus City Schools)
Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris would not say whether she will resign if a state investigation reveals attendance data fraud.(Photo: Colubmbus City Schools)

The investigation continues into whether Columbus City School administrators changed attendance data. The district’s superintendent maintains she knew nothing of the alleged rigging.

WOSU sat down with Harris prior to last night’s school board meeting to discuss the district’s – and the superintendent’s – future.

“There will be times that the leader of an organization may not know every single thing that’s going on,” Superintendent Gene Harris said.

Harris said she was not aware that school administrators were instructed to change student attendance records. She indicated she does not micromanage district employees, and said they are supposed to abide by a system of checks and balances.

None of the district’s principals or assistant principals – about 200 of them – contacted Harris concerning a directive to change attendance records. Harris said she does not know who gave the order.

“I think the information they had made them believe they were doing the right thing. The information did not come from me, but I do believe they thought they were doing the right thing.” – Gene Harris, CCS Superintendent

But the check and balances appear to have failed as the state auditor’s office and a district internal auditor continue look into whether thousands of students were retroactively withdrawn and re-enrolled in an effort to yield better state report cards. A district’s state report card affects its per-pupil funding.

“This is a large organization; it’s complex. And quite unfortunately things that we don’t want to happen are going to happen,” Harris said. “And I think what the community wants to see is what are you going to do about it, and how are you going to make sure it’s not going to happen again.”

But not everyone wants to give Harris a chance to rectify the problem.

“It’s time for you to go, Dr. Harris.” – Ron Soldwish, Columbus resident, at Tuesday night’s school board meeting

Soldwish said the superintendent’s integrity is tarnished.

“To say that you, Dr. Harris, had no idea this one going on; seems to me that you’re not doing your job, that if you were doing your job you would have noticed this.”

Harris did not respond to Soldwish’s remarks during the board meeting. In the interview with WOSU, the superintendent would not say whether she thinks her credibility has been damaged as a result of the attendance scandal or whether she feels responsible for any potential wrong-doing by district employees.

“I think my responsibility is to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

And when asked if she will resign if the state auditor’s office confirms attendance rigging, Harris’ did not say “no.”

“I’m going to wait for the review of the state auditor,” she said. “We’re going to take a look at what his recommendations are and based on that we’ll put the processes in place and do whatever we need to do to make sure that this district can go forward.”

While it waits for the state auditor’s final report, the district plans to reactivate an attendance and accountability committee. Harris told board members attendance data reviews will be completed quarterly, and it will be monitored by district internal auditor Carolyn Smith.

“We will look for any kinds of anomalies that are there,” Harris said.

Columbus City Schools is one of at least three districts the state targeted to investigate enrollment and attendance practices.

And the state auditor’s office has asked the Columbus City Schools to waive its attorney-client privileges of district officers and employees during the investigation in an effort to receive all relevant information.