That’s the only objective conclusion you can really draw from the release of the Department of Education’s audit of the East Baton Rouge school system. The findings in that audit are breathtaking stuff, and the scandal which is coming could very well be the worst in the history of East Baton Rouge Parish.
That is not an exaggeration.
This case is going to the Inspector General and the Legislative Auditor, and, since there are federal dollars involved, quite possibly the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. It’s entirely likely there will be people going to jail over the ultimate results the investigation produces.
But here’s what we already know.
First, the DOE interviewed staff of the school system about a specific case, which we’re told involved the grand-daughter of a member of the EBR school board (Vereta Lee) who got away with cheating and was given a diploma she didn’t earn. What they found was that yes, the student in question was allowed to graduate despite not having the requisite credits for it. They also found that when the principal at Glen Oaks High signed off on the transcript, there was nobody at the central office to check up on that sign-off – meaning that all you need to graduate from high school in the Baton Rouge public schools is a connection to a crooked principal and nobody at the central office is adequately equipped to do anything about it. The audit also found evidence that the school system tried to engage in a cover-up of the affair, but it’s even worse than that – not only was this specific case going on, but they also found “irregularities” with no less than 29 students just in Glen Oaks’ Class of 2013.
There were 136 graduating students in Glen Oaks’ Class of 2013. Twenty-nine of 136 is 21 percent. Better than one in five of the graduates in Glen Oaks’ Class of 2013 have irregularities in their transcripts.
The audit identified six students who were given diplomas they didn’t earn. It also found 11 students who were given the wrong type of diploma – which is tantamount to an attempt to defraud the taxpayers of Louisiana, because the diplomas they were given made them eligible for state scholarship money they wouldn’t have a chance at had they been given the correct diploma.
The other 12? They only had their grades inflated.
Next, the audit went systemwide.
The EBR system’s own staff alerted the auditors to the fact that they don’t have procedures and resources to check up on crooked principals, as said above, and warned that what’s been going on at Glen Oaks could be going on at other high schools around the parish.
And then the auditors took a sampling of about five percent of the student records from graduating students from 2010 to 2013. The findings were astounding.
Of the 362 student folders the auditors looked at, 90 of them had “significant errors.” In other words, one in four transcripts had problems, including…
- Credits they hadn’t earned;
- Grades they hadn’t earned; and
- Significant documentation was missing.
But worst of all, the auditors then looked at 221 records of students to review graduation rates reported by the EBR system. Some 82 percent of those records were fraudulent.
The auditors pulled 147 records of students who purportedly transferred to schools outside the state or outside the country. They were able to substantiate 16 of those records; the other 89 percent reflect kids who actually dropped out of school.
The auditors also pulled 54 records of kids who supposedly transferred to private schools, and were able to substantiate only eight of them. The other 85 percent were dropouts.
And the auditors pulled 20 records of kids who supposedly were homeschooled. In that case, 16 of them actually did homeschool.
What does that mean? It means the graduation rates of kids in EBR schools look to be completely without integrity.
Frankly, the whole school system is in question. This audit only looked at high schools – it didn’t look at middle schools or elementary schools, where there could be far worse abuse and fraud going on with less outward consequence. There are kids walking around with high school diplomas from public schools in Baton Rouge that they didn’t pass all the classes for, and there are grade transcripts from public schools in EBR that have zero integrity.
Meanwhile, EBR has been touting the “improvement” in its performance that right now looks like it doesn’t exist at all. The only “improvement” they appear to be able to show is in their ability to inflate grades and lie about graduation rates.
The St. George people, on whom this investigation was blamed in the first place by Rep. Pat Smith, are now saying this is the end; that they’re no longer interested in any future which involves kids living outside the city limits of Baton Rouge being governed by the EBR school system.
This was Pat Smith’s quote from back in January when the investigation was announced…
“This is truly a coup. Someone has put out false information on the system, and I believe it comes from the pullout of St. George.”
She accused the state Department of Education of being a bunch of shills for St. George – when the school system she shills for was inflating grades and submitting fraudulent graduation rate information to the state.
One might like to know what Pat Smith knew about this scandal and when she knew about it. Because it certainly looks like Pat Smith was attempting to cover up widespread academic fraud by the EBR school system by making spurious charges against political opponents in order to cover up a scandal. Obviously, that hasn’t worked – and if Pat Smith had any decency or integrity she would resign. And if her constituents had any sense of accountability they ought to start a recall effort in order to oust her – or at least lay in wait for her and run her straight out of a job in next year’s elections.
It will be interesting to see whether EBR school superintendent Bernard Taylor will resign or be forced out over this scandal. By all rights Taylor ought to be gone by the end of the week, but given the recent history of his job and the difficulty in finding somebody with any qualifications who will actually take it that’s probably not going to happen. Besides, who’s going to force Taylor out? The school board? At this point, particularly given the fact the initial investigation involved a family member of one of them, it’s worth asking how many of them – if not all of them – are implicated in the scandal. They’re hardly in any position to remove Taylor; it’s worth asking whether some or all of them should be resigning.
Bear in mind this wasn’t a complete audit of the EBR records. It was only a small sampling from the high schools.
The next step is the complete audit, and the guess is that there will be thousands of major instances of academic fraud found. And none of these instances so far show kids getting short-changed. Nobody is getting a C when they should have a B. This is grade inflation, and giving unearned credits in order to graduate kids when they shouldn’t be graduating. This is an effort to keep schools from being taken over by the state and to propagandize the public into thinking the system is making improvement when no such actual improvement is being made.
And it’s an effort to steal taxpayer money.
It’s a criminal conspiracy disguised as a school system, and it needs to be broken up. It’s time for an educational marketplace to replace the system. But in the meantime, the state Department of Education needs to step in and take over all of the EBR schools on an emergency basis.