June 21, 2013

Reaction to Columbus schools’ corruption disheartening and potentially expensive

Filed under: Education,Ohio Politics,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:15 pm

This post went up at Watchdog.org a few minutes ago.

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The reactions of people who should know better to the pervasive corruption at Columbus City Schools have arguably been more demoralizing than the mounting evidence of wrongdoing investigators continue to accumulate.

It has been a year since the Columbus Dispatch’s Bill Bush revealed that CCS had engaged in “attendance scrubbing” on a truly breathtaking scale for more than five years, wiping “2.8 million student absence days off the district’s computers.”

Mind you, the district only has about 51,000 students.

After all this time, the district’s wall of resistance — let alone receptiveness to genuine reform — has barely cracked.

State Auditor Dave Yost’s investigators have found substantial evidence pointing to additional and far-reaching academic and financial malfeasance. The Dispatch identified arbitrary changes to hundreds of thousands of course grades — an average of six grades per student during one year.

The FBI has also become involved because of “possible contract fraud and bid-rigging.”

Yost has frequently been forced to execute search warrants with police escorts to go over the heads of CCS officials and the district’s outside counsel, and recently told the Dispatch that his own investigation “is still in full throttle” because auditors keep discovering new problems.

The stonewalling currently on display at CCS continues a pattern seen in the recent past any time someone in the district stumbled onto the attendance problem and begged higher-ups do something about it. Just days ago, another Dispatch story chronicled how CCS officials up to and including Superintendent Gene Harris were more than likely fully aware of massive attendance scrubbing as early as 2009.

By scrubbing absences from official records, CCS has for years bogusly claimed increased rates of overall student attendance and publicly touted fictitious academic improvements. Additionally, though Yost’s investigation is still ongoing, it also seems reasonable to believe that CCS has received an undetermined amount of state funding it did not earn.

Public education’s so-called friends should be calling for wrongdoers’ swift punishment. Instead, they’re attacking the messenger, making only a pretense of reform, and building the foundation for a fall raid on taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

Ohio’s leading leftist blog spent the first few months after the Dispatch broke the attendance scandal arguing that its reporters and Yost were exploiting vagueness in reporting requirements and student classification criteria to punish CCS, whilescurrilously accusing him of being “in bed with” the Dispatch.

That’s utter nonsense. While Yost’s statewide attendance investigation and earlier work by the Ohio Department of Education found attendance scrubbing in nine other Ohio districts, including Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, more than 98 percent of the state’s 600 districts have had no compliance problems. It’s more than fair to ask what is wrong with the political cultures at the public schools in the state’s four largest cities that would allow unethical practices like attendance scrubbing to flourish.

Now that it’s irrefutably obvious that the people in charge of educating public school children in the Buckeye State’s largest city have engaged in wanton deception for years, that blog’s alleged crusaders for social justice have all too predictably gone silent.

On the political front, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and the Ohio Legislature seem to believe that establishing an independent auditor’s office and getting voters’ approval in November of a huge tax district-wide property-tax increase of as much as $500 per year for each $100,000 in home valuation will, in Coleman’s words, “restore integrity” at CCS.

No, it won’t.

Only cleaning out the people who don’t have integrity and replacing them with people who do will accomplish that.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Tom –

    I don’t know if you read much of the Dispatch, but if you haven’t seen it, there is a lengthy editorial in today’s (Sunday 6-23) paper that, interestingly, aligns exactly with your views on this scandal, and uses very blunt language, labeling a board member “petulant,” for instance. I’m not used to seeing your views in full accord with the Dispatch.

    Another aspect of this which should be watched closely is the role and behavior of the Board’s outside attorney, Porter Wright Morris and Arthur partner “Buzz” Trafford. PWMA is the Big Dog in Capitol Square law. So far, apparently, Trafford has advised the Board that they may violate the open meetings law many times (the Dispatch has them in court on this), thrown misleading and partial evidence to Yost’s investigators, and failed – apparently at the instruction of the Board – to bill for his services in spite of the Board having authorized several hundred k for him last fall. It looks like the reason Yost elected to take off the gloves and suprise search, subpoenas in hand, more than 20 schools is that Trafford was sending them data which appeared to be exculpatory, but which was dramatically incomplete, and very damaging when seen whole. A suspicious person might also surmise that the failure to bill is an attempt to suppress the bad press that will go with a much bigger legal bill than is already admitted to.

    While the Dispatch doesn’t name Trafford, it is this kind of attitude from the board generally, and the behavior it engenders, that is the target of their editorial. Surprisingly (again) I agree with that conclusion. The departure of Harris will do nothing much to improve CCS, nor frankly am I much enthused by Mayor Coleman’s effort, although I don’t fault him for action.

    Comment by sad dem — June 23, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

  2. #1, Thanks for noticing.

    I would have put more into the column about PWMA going obstructionist, but I didn’t have a lot of specifics, and the real blame lies with the their client’s instructions and directions.

    If CCS is required to employ accrual accounting, the fact that PWMA hasn’t billed or sufficiently billed for its services shouldn’t matter; you have to recognize the cost when the services are rendered (i.e., when the billable hours occurred).

    Comment by Tom — June 23, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

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