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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2013

Budget bill contains proposal for state takeover of schools

Plan targets data-‘scrubbing’ districts, including TPS

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Proposed legislation could lead to a state takeover of Toledo Public Schools and eight other districts because of its data-reporting practices.

An amendment to the state budget proposed Tuesday in the Ohio House would give the superintendent of public instruction the authority to sack boards of education “for any school district that is found by the Auditor of State to have knowingly manipulated student data with evidence of intent to deceive.”

The state superintendent then would then set up a five-member “academic distress commission,” with three members chosen by the state, and two members chosen by the mayor of the district’s largest city or village.

Toledo Public was among nine districts that state Auditor Dave Yost said his office had found to have manipulated attendance data on state report cards. Mr. Yost has said, however, that his office only found evidence that the Columbus district intended to cheat, so it’s not yet clear how the proposed legislation could affect TPS.

Toledo school officials weren’t aware of the proposal, but when they learned of it Wednesday, they weren’t fans.

Jerome Pecko, Toledo’s schools superintendent, said the sort of shake-up that a school-board removal would cause wasn’t a good idea, especially with the number of initiatives under way in the district. New leaders could impede progress.

“I think stability at this time is very important for Toledo Public Schools,” Mr. Pecko said.

Toledo Board of Education President Brenda Hill called the legislation unfair.

The amendment is just the latest twist in the saga of data reporting in Ohio schools.

At issue is how some districts withdrew chronically absent students from the classroom and then promptly re-enrolled them to “scrub” them from attendance data reported to the state.

Toledo officials voluntarily notified the Ohio Department of Education of its practice after attendance scrubbing at the Columbus schools was publicized. Toledo officials argued the practice was well-known and done with no ill intent.

Mr. Yost’s office launched a statewide investigation into the scrubbing practices, and ultimately found nine districts that improperly reported the data, though he saved his harshest criticisms for the Columbus district.

The proposed legislation was an amendment to the budget bill, and was passed out of committee Tuesday. The full House is scheduled to vote on the budget today.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com, 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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