The leader of the largest school district in Ohio has announced she will retire, amid a state investigation into alleged attendance rigging.
Harris: The time is right for me to say goodbye.
Standing in the room where she accepted the appointment 11 years ago, Columbus City Schools superintendent Gene Harris told a supportive crowd at the King Arts Complex she intends to resign that position at the end of the school year. After 35 years in the Columbus City Schools as a teacher, a school principal and superintendent, Harris says she has seen a lot of her plans bear fruit.
Harris: I wanted to ensure that the building program was on a firm foundation. And we've done that. 39 new or renovated schools. One of my goals was to improve academic performance for our students. And we're doing that. In 2004, we had 15 schools earning an 'A' or 'B'. today our number is 28. Back in 2004 we set a benchmark to raise graduation rates. And we've done that, too. Moving 30 percentage points from 55% to 85% of our students graduating
Noticeably absent from Harris' list were boosting attendance and improving test scores, statistics that could be called into question by an ongoing state investigation into alleged attendance-rigging. In July, State auditor Dave Yost announced he was launching an investigation into charges that district principals and administration officials improperly manipulated student data to improve attendance rates and raise building test scores, two key measures of district success tied to state funding. speaking to reporters after the announcement, Harris said she is not ducking that investigation.
Harris: The State Auditor has said that he will complete his investigation in January; I will be here 'til July and what I plan to do is see this thing through. We don't know what the results are. We don't know that we have attendance-rigging. We have a lot of data, but we don't know what the results are.
Harris says she is proud of the partnerships the district has formed with businesses and the community during her tenure. In her announcement, she suggested that there may be a role for long-time supporter Mayor Mike Coleman. But she declined to provide specifics.
Harris: What the mayor has said is that he is clear that this is a situation where everyone should be involved, the whole community should be involved. And again, we haven't had a transition like this in 12 years. and he wants to make sure that he is involved in helping to take the district to the next level.
Mayor Coleman has announced a press conference for Friday morning to discuss the Columbus city Schools and other education issues.
As the chair of the board's city standing committee, board member Mike wiles has long advocated more involvement from city hall. But he says he would oppose mayoral control of the district, as has happened in Cleveland or Kansas City.
Wiles: Any time you start adding layers of bureaucracy to an already bureaucratic system, it's just going to get more convoluted. And... the mayor has tons of other things on his plate. We have 120, 130 buildings, we have a 1.3 billion dollar budget, we have 7,000 employees. I could just not see where it benefits Columbus.
Wiles says he *would* support promoting a new superintendent from within the district.
Wiles: My biggest thing has always been to promote from within. So if we have someone within the district that meets the qualifications -- you know, license and everything -- I think that would probably be the best fit.
It's been a dozen years since the district has conducted a superintendent search, and none of the surrent board members have any experience with the process. School board president Carol Perkins says in upcoming weeks the board will make some key decisions....
Perkins: considering everything, from possibly to bringing on a search firm, to more importantly, what are the skill sets and experience that we want in our next superintendent. And we want to get community support and buy-in, *before* the process starts.
In the meantime, Harris and school board members say they have a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of plans to make, before July rolls around.