Columbus School District

After hedging, board agreed to allow Coleman’s panel in

By , February 6, 2013 | 8:21 pm | 0 Comment

After hedging, board agreed to allow Coleman’s panel in

ONUMBA.COM –After months of grappling with an immensely embarrassing probe involving student attendance record skullduggery, which is still playing out, it would be safe to assume that members of the Columbus Board of Education and school district officials are now busy cleaning up the mess from this massive catastrophe by installing adequate measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But there’s no assuming what role Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is playing as part of his effort to help improve the district. Recently, he and City Council President Andrew Ginther formed a panel of 25 members to recommend ways to do that. It is called Columbus Education Commission (CEC).

To be sure, it wasn’t clear at first just how both independently concieved orbs, that is, the districts internal housecleaning efforts and Coleman’s moves, would coalesce or at the very least work in choriamb in pursuit of a common mission. That lack of clarity in large part played into why the Call & Post published a recent story titled, ‘Future of Columbus School District, who is in charge of shaping it unclear.’

Even with recent expressions of desire to work together on this, it’s still largely unclear just how the labyrinths of this herculean and multilayered mess will be resolved in the end. The good news however is that both sides, clearly frosty about each other, have at least expressed commitment to coexist in favor of advancing a common agenda. But that dovetailing spirit only came after somewhat a corrosive start, a brief hedging on the part of the Columbus Board of Education that easily underscored the undercurrent feelings of turf tiff among some involved in the matter. The board, after stiffening its resolve not to allow Coleman’s panel members to conduct a management review of the district operation, eventually agreed to invite them in, even deciding to abandon its initial demand requiring the group to submit its request in writing.

Seemingly, both sides, after a well-managed acrimonious posturing possibly rooted in distrust as well, have agreed to work out a plan for proceeding with the management review.

Eric Fingerhut, the commission’s executive director, in a letter to the school board, called for both sides to assign individuals who would meet to discuss the way forward in terms of the “scope and timeline for the review.”

Fingerhut’s plan was approved by the school board. President Carol Perkins is the board’s representative who would meet with Mary Jo Hudson representing the panel.

For all involved in these efforts, it is probably refreshing and encouraging to see a once caviling and battleax Perkins involved at any level of collaboration with the mayor’s panel. Weeks ago, she wasn’t optimistic about any of this, even going as far as almost declaring the Sultanhood of the board concerning matters of education in the district.

“They’re fast-tracking with possible conclusions,” said Perkins at a recent board meeting, declaring, “Bottom line, whatever comes down, this board will make the final decision.”

That was her daggers-drawn feelings at that time.  But recently, she offered a more conciliatory tone.

“Now, I imagine, as we get further, if there’s some points that come up, I’m sure we can work it out, said Perkins, who also noted, “We have no objections to this, and again, this could be information that could be meaningful to the next superintendent.”

The current superintendent, who along with Perkins, presided over this whole mess, will retire at the end of the year. While Harris is on the verge of departure, Perkins on the other hand is staying as board leader after she received a vote of 6 to 1 to continue serving as president.

But Harris will hang around long enough to see and possibly react to the recommendations of CEC due in April, according to Fingerhut, who also noted that the panel would offer proposals for revamping the district’s practices.

Mgbatogu is a freelance writer and editor of Onumba.com based in Columbus. He can be reached by email at: Onumbamedia@yahoo.com / Copyright 2013 Onumba.com.   The information contained in the Onumba.com news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Onumba Media Group (OMG).

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Two major investigations launched into allegations of record fudging

By , July 14, 2012 | 3:37 pm | 0 Comment

Two major investigations launched into allegations of record fudging

ONUMBA.COM – In the fast moving investigations into whether Columbus City Schools tinkered with student attendance record to improve its report card, School Chief Gene Harris was recently ordered to turn over documents involving the case to the State Department of Education, one of a trifecta of entities now looking into the possible skullduggery. 

Accordingly, Harris was notified of the state’s investigation of the potential tinderbox a couple of weeks ago in a letter from Stan W. Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction.

“ODE will continue to expect that you and your staff, including your internal auditor, will be readily available to provide any necessary information or access to permit this special audit to occur,” wrote Heffner. 

Heffner’s agency has the authority to conduct the investigation to see if there was academic finagling involved.  Documents being requested include district policies for recording student attendance, email and handwritten correspondences by district officials involved in the matter as well as policies describing how and why students are removed and re-enrolled into the system. 

Harris, in response to Heffner, agreed to make all documents available to him and his staff.

But those documents would also be turned over to the Auditor of States’s office where David Yost is preparing to plunge into the allegations of euchre with his own investigation.  Spokeswoman for Yost’s office Carrie Bartunek said that her office is now assembling a cabal of investigators, attorneys and accountants for the project, for a gavel to gavel look into the labyrinth of matter.

Apparently, both investigations would run parallel with the one currently being conducted internally by the district’s audit office under Carolyn Smith.

So, with up to three separate investigations looking into the incident, it remains unclear how it all plays out. 

Apparently, Harris, in a heads-up June 15 letter, had notified Heffner of a potential problem with the district’s attendance record.  At the same time, when the story broke last week, she noted that she was not quite sure how serious the matter was and whether there was an intention to “cheat.”

“We don’t know what we have here — a big issue, a medium issue or a small issue.”

Seemingly, the big question for the investigating teams, and the nexus of the matter, is whether district officials often intentionally fudged attendance records of students for the purpose of boosting the district’s state report card. 

Several current and former district employees, some of them data analysts and principals have expressed the view that some data manipulations and calculated Kafkaesque occurred in the district, with some recalling having wondered for years why a dizzying shoal of students with poor attendance records would suddenly be erased from the system and then later reappear.

But, who could be doing that, and for what? 

They explained that the purpose of doing that would be to erase the records of students with poor attendance record from the system, that way they would be excluded from score tabulation for state report, which ultimately improves the district’s total student attendance score.  The students would then be re-enrolled later. 

Obviously, that’s their story and they are seemingly sticking to it.  But the ongoing investigations will ultimately determine exactly what happened, and why. 

Data submitted by school districts to the state are used for scoring district performances, especially student attendance rates which has direct and profound impact on student performances.  If these reports of shuck and data manipulation are true, it certainly casts a scandalous pall of uncertainty over the performance of the Columbus School district the past several years.

Mgbatogu is a freelance writer and editor of Onumba.com based in Columbus.  He can be reached by email at: Onumbamedia@yahoo.com / Copyright 2012 Onumba.com.

The information contained in the Onumba.com news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Onumba Media Group (OMG).

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Harris defends integrity in wake of allegations of fudging records

By , July 1, 2012 | 6:38 am | 0 Comment

Harris defends integrity in wake of allegations of fudging records

ONUMBA.COM – Columbus School Chief Gene Harris, in response to the recent allegations involving falsified student’s attendance records in her district, wanted to make one thing abundantly clear about her integrity: 

“I will not tolerate a situation where there is anyone knowingly or willingly manipulating the data,” she said. “We don’t know what we have here — a big issue, a medium issue or a small issue.”

But at the very least, we do know that it is an “issue” and that it potentially looks pretty bad for the district where almost all its schools maintain near sterling scores in attendance.  Now, some may start to question that record.

This mess bubbled up after media reports exposed disturbing instances over several years where attendance records of students were altered, usually in June, just before the data is sent to the State Department of Education for analysis, compilation and reporting. 

Harris explained that the allegations reached the media after several students who were documented in the system as truants were told by the courts that they were not.

Data submitted by school districts to the Ohio Department of Education are used for scoring district performances, especially attendance rates which has direct and profound impact on student performances.  If these knavery reports of shuck and shenanigans are true, it certainly casts a combustible and scandalous pall of uncertainty over the performance of the Columbus School district the past several years.

Harris, limpidly grappling with an uncomfortable matter of a gossamer ilk, said she does not know if this was an error or whether there was an intention to “cheat.”  Well, that’s precisely what the district internal audit investigation will soon uncover and let everyone know.

The big question for the investigators is whether district officials often intentionally tinker with attendance records of students for the purpose of skewing the district overall scores.  It appears when more of students who maintain good attendance record and less of the truants are included in compiled test scores for statewide report, it improves the performance of school districts.  It then means that when the attendance records of students who are performing poorly are manipulated and excluded from data analysis and score tabulation, which is exactly the allegations facing the Columbus School district, it potentially could be for the purpose of skewing performance in state report. 

However, it is all speculation at this cusp.

At the same time, one former school official, among many who have known for years about problems involving the district’s attendance data, recalled instances of possible data Kafkaesque, having wondered for years why students with poor attendance records would suddenly be erased from the system and before you knew it, they would re-appear there.

 At this cusp, everyone is embracing a “wait and see” posture not knowing the scope and gravity of this potential tinderbox until more is uncovered.

School board member Mike Wiles has nothing to say for now.

“As far as what exactly is going on, I don’t know.  There is an internal audit report imminent,” he said.

Apparently, he and the rest of Columbus are ardently awaiting that report to get to the bottom of a snowballing saga that could be a big mess for the district.

Mgbatogu is a freelance writer and editor of Onumba.com based in Columbus.  He can be reached by email at: Onumbamedia@yahoo.com

Copyright 2012 Onumba.com. The information contained in the Onumba.com news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Onumba Media Group (OMG).

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