Former Columbus School Data Czar Guilty of Attempted Data Rigging

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Former Columbus City Schools data czar Steven Tankovich (right) pleads no contest to a fourth degree felony charge in Franklin County Common Pleas court Thursday morning.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU News)
Former Columbus City Schools data czar Steven Tankovich (right) pleads no contest to a fourth degree felony charge in Franklin County Common Pleas court Thursday morning.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU News)

The man once in charge of data at the Columbus City schools faces sentencing this fall after admitting to criminal charges of tampering with student records.
Steven Tankovich is the first administrator in the data rigging scandal to face charges. The case could lead to the prosecution of other school officials.

Tankovich pleaded ‘no contest’ to a charge of attempted tampering with evidence.

Franklin County Common pleas court judge Patrick Sheeran then found him guility.

In court documents, prosecutors say Tankovich, from 2010 to 2011 devised a scheme to alter both attendance and grade records. They say he then supervised and instructed building principals and other administrators how to work the scheme.

Tankovich could face a five thousand dollar fine and 18 months in prison. But the judge indicated probation is a more likely sentence.

After the hearing, Tankovich remained silent. .

Q:) Mr. Tankovich do you have any comment? (silence, sound of footsteps)

Tankovich’s conviction comes more than two years after the first revelations of data-rigging were revealed.

A state audit followed. It found nearly 8,000 instances of grade changes.The investigation also found administrators counted unenrolled students – they were called “Zombie 12th Graders” who improved a school’s graduation rate.

Prosecutor Ron O’Brien says the tampering charge against Tankovich confirms findings in the state audit.

“Test scores are test scores and attendance are attendance. Either you’re there or you’re not and that’s something that needs to be properly reflected and actually was not in this case,” says O’Brien.

Tankovich’s attorney, Mark Collins, says his client decided to enter a plea to avoid a lengthy trial.

“He acknowledges that when they removed him he didn’t do enough to stop it and warn people,” says Collins.

Tankovich also agreed to cooperate with investigators prosecuting cases against other Columbus officials.

Collins says his client discussed data changing methods at meetings with top school officials, at meetings attended by former superintendent Gene Harris.

“Gene Harris I believe, and I can’t speak for her, but my client indicated that these types of concepts were discussed at meetings. They were discussed at statewide meetings. They were discussed at meetings where Gene Harris was there.” says Collins.

Prosecutor O’Brien says he expects more Columbus school officials to enter similar ‘no contest’ pleas to alleged wrongdoing. But he declined to say whether former superintendent Harris is among those facing criminal charges.

“I don’t think I want to identify people by name who might face charges in the future. I do know that there will probably be at least two other people coming in in the next month, I believe to enter a plea under similar circumstances,” says O’Brien.

Obrien says he has yet to interview Harris but has talked to her attorney.

State Auditor Dave Yost applauded O’Brien for what he called his tenacity in seeking justice. In a written statement, Yost says: “Now, the shoes are going to drop like balloons at a convention hall.”

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