COLUMBUS, Ohio – Several state school board members prepared Tuesday to offer a resolution requesting an independent investigation of the Department of Education’s charter oversight office in the wake of its director’s resignation.
The proposal, expected to be introduced at the board’s monthly meeting in Columbus, comes during an ongoing controversy over the actions of former School Choice Director David Hansen. Under board rules, the vote to authorize an outside investigation would come at the board’s October meeting, unless an emergency is declared.
Hansen was forced to resign after he acknowledged at the board’s July meeting that he omitted certain failing grades of online and dropout-recovery schools from evaluations of charter school sponsors, causing their performance to appear better than it was. He said he didn’t want to “mask” successes elsewhere.
Hansen’s wife was chief of staff to Republican Gov. John Kasich before leaving the role recently to manage Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign.
During intense questioning by the board Tuesday, Superintendent Richard Ross repeatedly told members that ample opportunity for an outside probe already exists after 100,000 pages of public documents were recently turned over to the state inspector general and auditor. He said Inspector General Randall Meyer’s office requested the documents and that it would be “presumptuous” to formally request action by his office.
Ross said he is convinced that Hansen was the sole person involved in deciding to scrub the reports of poor marks and that no one above him was aware of his actions.
Explaining why he has said Hansen “acted alone,” Ross said department employees who cropped up in emails as having a role in running data for Hansen or holding exchanges with him in person or via email were not decision-makers. Ross added that any personnel actions toward additional employees were being held off until there are findings from an investigation.
Ross said several actions have occurred in response to the omissions. Besides Hansen’s removal and the rescinding of his evaluations, Ross has created a committee to establish better checks and balances for release of state education data and appointed a three-member advisory panel to review the charter school evaluation process.
In addition, Ross said Tuesday that the department is working to establish a whistleblower policy, a first that he could find in at least 20 years. The policy would not create any new protections, as those already exist in Ohio law, but he said the effort would boost awareness within the department that the jobs of employees are protected if they come forward with potential illegalities.
Among board members’ concerns was that there is no evidence to date that employees of Hansen’s who knew he was removing failing grades from evaluations ever brought it to the attention of his superiors, the department legal counsel or human resources.
The Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers have joined several Democratic state lawmakers and a coalition of state school board members in calling for the outside probe. Their letter was sent Monday to Board President Tom Gunlock.
Gunlock became ill Tuesday and had to leave before the meeting started.