CMSD responds to audit findings

Release of an interim report Thursday of a statewide probe of attendance reporting in 100 Ohio schools cited weaknesses in Cleveland's recording practices, but produced no evidence that these practices were implemented to improve state report card ratings.

Although CEO Eric Gordon expressed concerns about the state's numbers, he said he fully acknowledges that improvements are needed in the district's current attendance and record keeping policies and in its enrollment and withdrawal procedures.

"It is a complex issue that school officials across the state, especially in urban districts with high student mobility, have grappled with for years, and there is no question that we must find ways to do it better."

But the CEO said he will challenge any suggestion that procedures used in Cleveland were established in order to "scrub" attendance data for the purpose of improving the district's report card ratings.

"The low performance of the 15 schools identified by the auditor do not at all support the state's concerns that Cleveland used these practices for the purpose of improving report card ratings," said Gordon. "The low performance of these identified schools, including nine in Academic Emergency, three in Academic Watch, and a school not even eligible for a state rating, obviously reaped no benefit for the schools or for CMSD."

After receiving a preliminary report sent to districts on October 2, CMSD officials requested verification of data in the report, released publicly by the Auditor of State on Thursday, October 4, 2012, in a 10:30 a.m. press conference.

Gordon said he has not yet received answers to questions raised to auditors Wednesday about numbers used in this interim report and the CEO remains concerned about the potential use of inaccurate data obtained from the Ohio Department of Education, which appears, he said, to be used in crafting potential findings for Cleveland and for other Ohio school districts.

"The data cited for Cleveland says 19,633 students (34.4%) and 12,235 tested students (21.4%) "rolled-up" to the state, which would mean our student population would have had to have been between 57,072 and 57,173 students in 2010-11," said Gordon.  "Our verified enrollment, as reported by the State Auditor in our FY2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) was 43,202."

Gordon has sought clarification, including whether auditors had inadvertently included data for all Cleveland students, including those enrolled in more than 65 charter schools across the city.

Gordon said the numbers used by State auditors also don't match the EMIS End of Year report submitted to the Ohio Department of Education for the 2010-11 school year.

The CEO not only expressed concerns to auditors about discrepancies in the numbers, but also about suggestions that CMSD prolonged the gathering of student records for auditors.   In fact, he said in a response to the preliminary report, auditors themselves chose not to complete reviews at schools with high transfer rates, either by visiting the schools where students transferred or by having CMSD staff bring the records to them.  

"We fully opened our records and provided every document requested during the review," said Gordon.  

Gordon said he concurs and fully intends to follow the state's recommendation to update and improve enrollment, attendance, and record keeping policies, procedures and practices, some of which have been in place in the district as far back as 2001.

 "The state-wide review sheds light on the complexity of attendance reporting, especially in high-mobility districts, and we are hopeful that it will lead to improved practices at the state and local level," said Gordon.  "There is no question that improvements are needed in our own practices.  That does not mean we cheat."