District data scandal costs $500KPublished: 7/7/13 @ 12:00
Ohio’s largest school district is spending more than $500,000 for legal services related to an attendance-data investigation.
The Columbus City Schools board has set aside another $250,000 for the law firm it hired to represent the district on matters related to the investigation, The Columbus Dispatch reports. The board originally allocated $315,000 to the law firm for fiscal year 2013, but bills recently submitted by Porter Wright Morris & Arthur show that initial allocation has been spent.
The board hired Porter Wright in August after State Auditor Dave Yost began investigating whether district employees tampered with student data to make the schools look better.
The FBI later joined the investigation, and two parents have filed lawsuits against the board and district officials alleging district employees harmed students by misrepresenting schools’ true academic status.
The firm is charging a discounted rate and did not charge for some work, said Robert Trafford, the lead Porter Wright lawyer working on the issue.
Porter Wright decided not to bill for some services and waited until the end of the fiscal year on June 30 to send bills, the newspaper reported.
“The firm is well aware of the mounting costs of the various investigations and the district’s tight budget,” Trafford wrote.
But Larry Braverman, the district’s chief in-house legal counsel, said he doesn’t know whether the latest allocation to the law firm will last the year.
Trafford said that legal bills have climbed because the state auditor’s investigation has gone on so long and expanded in scope.
The investigation began by examining whether children had been withdrawn secretly so that their test scores wouldn’t count and has widened to include whether administrators changed kids’ grades without teachers’ knowledge.
The auditor has issued more than 40 subpoenas for information and used warrants to seize records on two occasions.
Yost said he also is frustrated by the length of the investigation, but he said that is the district’s fault.
“This is the only school district in the state that has found it necessary to filter every last piece of information through a downtown law firm. And that’s unquestionably slowed things dramatically,” Yost said.