Columbus Department of Education

Yost: Ohio Department of Education going easy on cheating principals

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost ridiculed the state Department of Education on Thursday for allowing some Columbus City Schools administrators to take part of the summer off as punishment for data-rigging.

"Here's the most important thing you do to make sure this never happens again: You make the people responsible pay, " Yost said. "It's about what we want to set as the expectation for people who are being paid by us, the people, to do a particular job."

At a news conference Thursday afternoon held in response to a report in The Dispatch, Yost charged that the department is trying to "clear the deck" rather than consider the damage done to children by the changing of thousands of student-enrollment records and the erasing of millions of absence records.

The message sent to future school officials who might consider data-rigging: Nothing is going to happen to you, Yost said.

The Dispatch reported on Wednesday that the Department of Education sent letters to dozens of Columbus City Schools administrators last week offering a deal that would suspend their state-required educator licenses over their roles in the district's data-rigging scandal.

The letters offered two-year license suspensions, with 22 months waived if the principals agree to serve 60 days of suspension, a term that could be served during summer break. The administrators also would complete ethics training and community service, said Ken Baker, executive director of the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators, which is representing several principals before the department. Baker said he knew of 33 administrators who received letters, and he speculated that there could be more.

Baker said he was concerned that the suspensions were all identical, regardless of the facts, which he described as "one-size-fits-all discipline."

Yost shared that concern: "Not everybody did the same thing. Not everybody did it as often as others, " and "after two years, there's been more than enough time to come to a just, individualized sanction."

Yost said he sent the department 64 names in January 2014 to consider for discipline and license action, and thus far he knows of only four who have been disciplined.

"This is not about Columbus City Schools at this point, " Yost said. "It's about the Ohio Department of Education."

Yost said he called Lonny J. Rivera, the state's interim school superintendent, on Thursday morning to express his disappointment. Yost said Rivera did not offer to rescind the suspension letters.

Asked whether the department could be trying to minimize disruptions to the district that a mass suspension of administrators would cause, Yost responded: "That assumes that having 60 lying, cheating administrators on the job makes your school district run better." The department could stagger the punishments if that is an issue, he said.

Department of Education spokeswoman Kim Norris did not return a telephone call seeking comment but issued a written statement saying ODE is "in the process of closing out the investigation related to data-scrubbing by administrators at Columbus City Schools. ODE already revoked six administrators’ licenses and notified eight others in December of the intent to revoke their license."

"Currently, ODE is working on other actions to suspend other administrator licenses, " the statement said. "We are dealing with each of the cases with appropriate sanctions based on the level of offense.

"Until the consent agreements are signed and approved by the state Board of Education, they are not a public document."

Whether the state board will sign off is up in the air. Principals should be held to a high standard, board President Tom Gunlock said.

"I would want to look at each individual case and do this on a case-by-case basis, " Gunlock said. "For me, it's going to be who's more guilty, I guess, and is more culpable.

"I'm not inclined to give (everybody) the same punishment, " even if it means a drawn-out hearing process, said Gunlock, an appointee of Gov. John Kasich's. Ohio educators are entitled to a hearing, similar to a trial, before the state can remove them from their jobs.

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