Northland News

Year in review

Data scrubbing, failed levy haunt CCS in '13

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EAMON QUEENEY/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
A disappointed Columbus City Schools Interim Superintendent Dan Good (second from right) approaches the podium to speak after the resounding defeat of two school issues on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. On stage with Good (from left) are Columbus City Council President Andy Ginther, School Board President Carol Perkins and Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

An ongoing data-scrubbing scandal plagued Columbus City Schools throughout 2013.

The imbroglio, which came to light in 2012, involves employees accused of manipulating student records to improve their school's standing on state report cards.

State Auditor Dave Yost asserted in early 2013 that nine districts -- CCS among them -- manipulated student data.

The FBI also began investigating allegations of school district wrongdoing.

The allegations led to two high-profile resignations this year: data czar Steve Tankovich and Michael Dodds, who retired Jan. 15 from his position as regional executive director overseeing 26 schools.

Late in the year, Yost endorsed new data-scrubbing policies proposed by the district, calling them "model policies for other districts."

 

Ballot busts

Some observers believe the scandal played a significant role in the defeat of a 9.01-mill combined operating levy that appeared on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Issue 50, which would have represented a nearly 24-percent increase in property taxes, was defeated 69 percent to 31 percent, despite more than $2 million in campaign contributions and support from Mayor Michael B. Coleman, Gov. John Kasich, big business, labor and local clergy.

District voters also rejected Issue 51, which would have created an independent auditor in the district.

There also was a shakeup on the school board as a result of the election.

Voters replaced incumbents Mike Wiles and Hanifah Kambon with Dominic Paretti and Michael D. Cole.

Then, just weeks before the year ended, Carol Perkins announced she was stepping down as board president after five years in that position. A new board president will be appointed in January.

 

Harris retires

Longtime Superintendent Gene Harris retired from the school district at the end of June. Harris, who retired at the age of 60, graduated from Linden-McKinley High School and worked for the district for 35 years, starting as a teacher and serving 12 years as schools' chief.

She was credited with several successful reforms, such as raising the district's graduation rate from 50 percent when she took over to 85 percent in 2011.

However, the ongoing data-scrubbing scandal and this year's poor performance on the state report card had tarnished her legacy, some observers noted.

Replacing Harris led to a public spat between Perkins and Mayor Coleman, who interjected himself into school affairs this year.

Perkins first balked at the Coleman's insistence the board delay its search for a permanent superintendent until the Columbus Education Commission, a panel he assembled, completed its review of district needs.

The board relented and agreed to appoint an interim superintendent until a broader search began.

But replacing Harris, even with a temporary superintendent, had its complications.

The board was set to hire Joseph Alutto, the retiring provost of Ohio State University. Alutto had agreed to do the job for a dollar.

But in an unexpected twist, Alutto was hired as interim president of OSU after E. Gordon Gee resigned as president of the university after making insensitive remarks about Catholics and other universities.

The search ended in the summer, when Dan Good, former superintendent of Westerville City Schools, was appointed to a one-year contract. He began his $195,000-a-year job July 1.

The Columbus Education Commission, despite some resistance from the board, began outlining more efficiency measures in the district during the past 12 months.

The 25-member commission, whose members were appointed by Coleman in 2012, recommended the district cut $200 million over five years.

Among its suggestions was minimizing salary growth, capping accrual of sick time and encouraging more bus-company competition.

The districts woes continued in August, when the district was issued four F's, three D's and two C's on its annual state report card. Officials met the disappointing grades head-on, with both Coleman and Good calling the results unacceptable.

 

Neighborhood schools

Several education groups have emerged in the district, each looking to improve schools in their neighborhood.

The district consented to Southside STAY's request to make Stewart Alternative Elementary School in German Village a partial lottery school, which would allow local children to attend the school without having to apply.

Northwest STARS, led by former Columbus school board member Stephanie Groce and her husband, Steve Niehoff, looks to create a feeder pattern for Centennial High School.

Clintonville Go Public wants to support and enhance the neighborhood public schools in the Clintonville neighborhood.

 

Transportation issues

CCS also was confronted with some challenging transportation issues in 2013.

The board in April significantly expanded its busing operation by purchasing 300 new buses, which increased the in-house fleet to 800.

In a related move, the district essentially fired First Student, a sole provider that was looking for a three-year contract extension.

The action didn't entirely pan out.

In August, right before school started, the district announced it was shy 51 certified bus drivers. That led to some initial delays for district students at the beginning of the school year.

The district eventually turned to First Group, parent company of First Student, to find substitute drivers.

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