Citing organized and persistent interference with the attendance data investigation, the state auditor's office says it's likely that criminal charges will be brought against some Columbus school district employees.
The state auditor has been investigating several districts - with Columbus City Schools at the heart of the probe - to determine whether employees manipulated enrollment and attendance records to improve performance rankings. The auditor's office has not identified those who could face criminal charges, but a source told WCBE that as many as 18 people in the district may be charged - including some high-level employees. In a statement, the district acknowledges the federal involvement in the investigation and pledged to give authorities full cooperation. More from State Impact Ohio's Ida Lieszkovszky.
The state auditor’s previous investigations into Columbus City Schools have found evidence of tampering with attendance data. But the auditor’s office says it’s now breaking off Columbus City Schools from the statewide investigation, and expanding it to include grade changing – for example switching an F to a D.
William Owen – Chief Legal Council for the state auditor says he also has reason to suspect school officials have been intimidating witnesses.
“When I see a witness talk to an investigator and then call the next day crying that they are going to lose their job because they were ‘talked to’ by someone in the administration, that gives rise for concern.”
Owen has publicly asked the district not to interfere with the investigation. He worries not just for witnesses fearful for their jobs, but also that any future witnesses may be too scared to come forward.
In a response letter, the attorney for the Columbus schools Robert Trafford says accusations of interference are baseless.
Owen says there’s a good chance the investigation into Columbus City Schools will lead to referrals for criminal prosecution to the Franklin County prosecutor. He hopes to have something to report by the end of the year. Federal investigators are also looking into the Columbus case.