School Officials Knew of Problems Prior to State Audit

Prince George's County Public School Board holds a special meeting in Upper Marlboro on Dec. 19 to review recommendations from a state audit on grade changes for high school seniors. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Prince George's County Public School Board holds a special meeting in Upper Marlboro on Dec. 19 to review recommendations from a state audit on grade changes for high school seniors. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Prince George’s County school board held a special meeting Tuesday to review systemwide changes after a state audit found some students didn’t have eligibility to graduate.

School board members questioned high-ranking officials why an internal audit conducted last year found some schools graduated students without proper documentation. The state hired Alvarez & Marshal Public Sector Services of Northwest in August to conduct an audit of Prince George’s.

A document dated May 2016 and obtained by WTTG-TV (Channel 5) hours before the meeting states: “Schools do not receive timely feedback from compliance reviews as evidenced by the current backlog of reports. School staff responsible for maintenance of records have not received timely or adequate training to perform their responsibilities.”

The letter noted 72 violations occurred at various schools between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2015, where student records couldn’t be located, files were disorganized and documents were on the floor.

The letter from the district’s certified public accountant, Michele Winston, went to Gwendolyn J. Mason, associate superintendent of student services, and Adrian B. Talley, executive director of student services. Copies also went to eight other officials including schools CEO Kevin Maxwell, board Chairman Segun Eubanks and Shawn Joseph, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning.

Because of this letter, which some school board members such as Edward Burroughs III didn’t know about until recently, the board voted in favor to hold a closed-door session after Tuesday’s meeting.

Burroughs expressed his frustration when Maxwell didn’t directly respond to his questions and concerns about the internal audit.

“I am just trying to understand, what are you doing? Why wasn’t it corrected?” Burroughs said.

“There are a lot of reports that people get in this organization,” Maxwell said. “I don’t respond to every single audit. It is not my sole responsibility to respond to every single one.”

Deputy Superintendent Monique Whittington Davis said she didn’t recall receiving document last year. But she also said when a letter is addressed to a specific official, that person is responsible to respond directly.

Before officials and board members spoke, a few teachers and parents criticized the board, with one parent calling them “disgusting.”

“Our teachers have been disgraced by the leadership,” said Yolanda Rogers of Lanham, who has a daughter in 11th grade at DuVal High School. “Our school system that my children have graduated from have been marred by this scandal.”

During the more than two-hour meeting, Maxwell and other officials reviewed some changes based on recommendations from Alvarez & Marsal. The company determined about 5 percent of 1,212 high school seniors sampled from the past two years didn’t have proper documentation to determine eligibility to graduate.

The upcoming modifications the county will implement include:

• Producing individual school quarterly reports to ensure administrators adhere to police and procedures on grade changes, starting next month. The school board will help determine how to best report the information.

• By February, separate roles will be delineated among staff such as counselors, grade managers and administrators before any grades are changed; and

• A new administrative procedure will be outlined by April with the school system’s division of information technology to create an electronic version in some school this year; then enroll throughout the system in 2018-19.

School officials will also create a faculty and staff handbook so everyone understands grade policies and procedures. One example from the audit highlights why systemwide communication must take place.

In this school year’s Suitland High School staff handbook, it omitted this sentence: “If a student does no work on an assignment or assessment, the teacher shall assign a grade of a zero.”

To ensure full transparency, officials will hire a third party near the end of the school year.

Maxwell said 42 recommendations came from the audit and will be addressed through next year. He pointed out that the audit didn’t find any systemwide plan to change grades and that the school system’s response to the audit will be sent to state officials this week.

“The findings were very sobering and we are taking this very seriously,” said Mary Kingston Roche, who chairs the board’s academic achievement committee. “We have to get this right. We can’t wait until next [school] year to make these changes.”

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About William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer 397 Articles

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways:
Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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