Department of Education Columbus Ohio

State school board members want investigation of education department

Calling state Superintendent Richard A. Ross “a prime suspect” in the faulty evaluations of sponsors of failing charter schools, several members of the State Board of Education asked on Monday for an independent investigation of the Department of Education.

The request comes days after Ross told board members he would bring in three outside educators to advise the department and ensure future sponsor evaluations are conducted properly.

It also follows state Auditor Dave Yost’s decision last week not to send a special-investigations team to examine the omissions of some student-performance data even though it appeared “noncompliant with Ohio law.”

David Hansen, the agency’s director of school choice, resigned last month after admitting he left off poor grades for online and dropout-recovery schools on evaluations of their charter-school sponsors. His wife, Beth Hansen, is Gov. John Kasich’s former chief of staff and current campaign manager for his 2016 presidential run.

“Unfortunately, the proposal to bring in three outsiders to determine how the sponsor evaluation should be completed falls far short of what is required for the public to regain confidence in (the) Ohio Department of Education, ” the seven of the 19 board members wrote in a letter to Ross.

“Like it or not, you are a prime suspect in what has occurred. Mr. Hansen may have taken the fall, but you were his boss. Whether by mismanagement, or deliberate instruction to Mr. Hansen, you are culpable as well.”

The board members also asked that the proposed probe look into the role Ross and the education department played in developing an improvement plan for Youngstown schools, which was rushed through the legislature without informing the board.

The letter was signed by Pat Bruns, Ann Jacobs, A.J. Wagner, Michael Collins, Mary Rose Oakar, Stephanie Dodd and Roslyn Painter-Goffi. All are elected members of the board, as opposed to the eight members appointed by the governor. Jacobs is the only Republican to sign the letter.

Collins, of Westerville, said board members have been bombarded by telephone calls and e-mails questioning the faulty evaluations of charter-school sponsors.

According to Collins and Dodd, a board member from Hebron, Ross called board members over the weekend to inform them of his plan to bring in the three outside educators. He also told them that the department looked over Hansen’s e-mails and believes that he acted on his own.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate for Ross to lead an investigation because he could be part of the problem, ” Dodd said.

In response to the letter, education department spokesman Michael Sponhour said, “Dr. Ross agrees that there are issues that need to be addressed with the system of sponsor evaluation. The evaluations were promptly retracted and we are working on a comprehensive plan to ensure that our evaluations are accurate and comply with the law. The State Auditor will also be looking at this matter as part of his regular review of our agency and we welcome his review. We look forward to working with the State Board to make sure these evaluations are sound. ”

The seven board members are asking board president Tom Gunlock to schedule a special meeting in August to consider their request for an independent investigation. They are three members short of the 10 needed to force a special meeting. The board’s next scheduled meeting is in September.

Gunlock, an at-large member appointed by Kasich, said he’s satisfied with Ross’ response to the problems and not inclined to call a special meeting.

“Obviously, a mistake happened. Obviously, somebody went above his authority and he paid a tremendous price, ” Gunlock said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again.”

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