4 local charter schools under investigation for attendance numbers

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4 local charter schools under investigation for attendance numbers

Just 43 of the 153 students listed in attendance records at Dayton Technology Design High School were present when investigators from the state Auditor’s office conducted a surprise, random head count at 30 charter schools across the state, according to a report issued Thursday.

The surprise head count uncovered wide discrepancies in the number of kids in class versus the attendance numbers reported by the schools to state officials, State Auditor Dave Yost said. Attendance discrepancies were found at three other Montgomery County-based charters — City Day Community School, Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School and Richard Allen Preparatory.

On Oct. 1, Yost deployed 30 auditors to 30 schools to take attendance. Yost found problems in 16 schools, including significant attendance issues in seven charters that target drop out students. Among the seven is Dayton Technology Design High School, which is sponsored by Dayton City Schools.

Auditors showed up at 8:35 a.m. Oct. 1 at Dayton Technology Design H.S. and found just 43 students in school — well below the 172 estimated enrollment given in July 2014 and below the 153 students reported to Ohio Department of Education by the school to be in attendance on Oct. 1. School Director Karl Perkins told auditors that the headcount would be low because tardy students tend to arrive closer to 9 a.m. and some log onto the computer from home, the report said.

Yost’s team showed up again — unannounced — at 8:55 a.m. on Nov. 12 and counted 60 students at Dayton Technology Design H.S. The audit also noted that the school didn’t notify ODE that it would offer “blended” learning where students take classes in person and online.

Yost said ODE should investigate the seven charters as well as nine other community schools where auditors found moderate variances in attendance numbers. Among the nine are City Day Community School, Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School and Richard Allen Preparatory.

“I’m really kind of speechless in everthing that I found. It is quite a morass,” Yost said.

Sandy Theis, executive director of Progress Ohio, a liberal think tank, said taxpayers and students are getting hurt. “I think they should raise hell, call their lawmakers and tell them to fix it,” she said.

State funding for schools is based on student headcounts. Previously, public schools would conduct counts in the first week of October, which prompted Herculean efforts to get kids to show up that week. But that changed this academic year to a requirement that schools report their actual daily attendance throughout the year, said ODE spokesman John Charlton. Charter schools are required to report their attendance figures monthly and funding is pro-rated based on those reports, he said.

“We will take a serious look at this report and work with the auditor’s office, like we always do,” Charlton said.

In the 2012-13 academic year, 115,324 students attended 367 charter schools, which collected a combined $824.6 million in state funding, according to an ODE annual report on community schools.

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