Michael D. Clark reports:
Ohio school superintendents who may have cheated the system are again being put on public notice by the state’s auditor but this time with an offer of leniency.
Local school officials that voluntarily come forward by Monday to confess if they improperly altered student enrollment figures in recent years to improve their state academic rating will suffer less than if they wait until the auditor’s investigation reveals they did so.
“The time to tell the truth is now,” said Ohio Auditor David Yost in a letter sent this week to Ohio’s local school leaders.
Officials from Mason Schools, the largest district in Warren County and among the state’s top-10 academic performers, said they have nothing to report.
“We have nothing improper to report so we will not be responding,” said Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for the 11,000-student district.
Locally the Hamilton County school district of Lockland is one of three districts – including Columbus and Toledo schools – that have already been accused of altering enrollment data.
Yost contends some district administrators have withdrawn, then re-enrolled students who were habitually absent. The practice could improve test scores and attendance rates on the districts’ state report cards because only students who are continuously enrolled in a district are counted on them.
In his letter, Yost said, “I am confident that most districts have been doing the right thing, in the right way. Others may have acted improperly, but with the belief that their practices were acceptable. It seems likely that still others acted deliberately.”
Yost offered “an opportunity to report information in good faith. If your district has or may have done something wrong in reporting data, whether you knew or did not know it was wrong, we need you to step forward and report the truth.”
“Falsely reporting attendance data is a violation of state and federal law. More importantly, we fail our children and the mission of our schools when we alter records that have a direct impact on the services offered to our students.”
“Voluntary self-reporting demonstrates good intentions and will help separate those who acted in good faith from those who acted with fraudulent intent. This office will be an advocate for those who self-report attendance irregularities.”
Yost, has said his office will investigate a yet-undetermined representative sampling of Ohio’s 613 districts.
“In the weeks ahead, auditors from my office will visit schools in Ohio to review records and report whether it is likely data manipulation occurred. If you have knowledge that inaccurate data was reported to the state by your schools, regardless of the motive for doing so, you can make things right,” wrote Yost.
Toledo Public Schools voluntarily admitted its past data manipulations last month to the Toledo Blade. Superintendent Jerome Pecko said he began an investigation into his district’s policies after reading reports of manipulation in Columbus Schools.
The Toledo Blade contributed