The superintendent of Columbus City Schools formally announced her retirement Thursday amid a scandal involving student-attendance records.
At a press conference Sept. 20 at the King Arts Complex, Gene Harris announced she will leave the district she's served for 35 years, the last 12 as superintendent.
"The time is right for me to say goodbye," said Harris, whose retirement will be effective July 1, 2013.
Harris, 59, paid her farewells at the King Arts Complex, formerly Garfield Elementary School, which she attended as a youngster. It is also the facility where the Columbus Board of Education made its announcement on hiring Harris as the leader of the now 50,000-student district.
Her retirement announcement came as the Ohio Auditor's Office investigates Columbus City Schools -- and two other districts in the state -- for attendance-reporting irregularities. At issue is whether the attendance records have been manipulated to improve scores on the State Report Card issued by the Ohio Department of Education. The auditor's office is expected to present its findings in January.
Harris denied that the investigation played a role in her decision.
"What I plan to do is see this through," she said.
She said she is leaving the district in good shape, by increasing academic ratings and graduation rates, and launching a successful capital improvements plan, which led to 39 schools either being rebuilt or substantially renovated.
Harris, who is paid $186,460 a year, graduated from Columbus' Linden-McKinley High School in 1971. She started as a teacher in Columbus and worked her way up through the district, serving as principal, administrator and, ultimately, the leader of the district.
She thanked Mayor Michael B. Coleman, who was not at the press conference, for his support of the district and active mentoring of students.
Coleman's office returned the compliment.
"A Columbus City Schools district without Gene Harris is difficult to fathom," Coleman's spokesman Dan Williamson said. "Gene poured her heart and soul into the district and touched the lives of countless Columbus kids. She will leave the district stronger than when she found it, and she will leave huge shoes for us to fill."
School board President Carol Perkins said the district likely will hire a consultant in coming months to begin the search process for a new superintendent.
Perkins said Harris will be missed.
"She set the bar very high."