Seven Kansas City Public School district employees falsified student attendance records for three years from 2013 to 2016, according to a summary of an external investigation made public by the district.
The issue was most prominent in the 2015-2016 school year, boosting attendance data which resulted in additional state funding.
The altered student records bumped KCPS’s attendance rate to over 80% in the 2015-2016 school year. While this is still below the state standard of 90%, it gave the district “significant breaks in the scoring system,” according to a KCPS press release. It’s not clear to what extent altered records from 2013-2015 affected overall attendance data.
The district has struggled to meet state attendance standards for decades. That's one area holding KCPS back from full accreditation, which the district lost in 2011.
“I think the motive (of employees who falsified records) is simple,” KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell told KCUR. “It’s about hitting accreditation.”
Changes to attendance records haven’t occurred since Bedell became superintendent, according to the external investigation.
KCPS didn’t release the names of the employees who allegedly falsified records, citing confidentiality and personnel reasons. Three are no longer employed by KCPS and four are on leave, pending administrative review.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education met with KCPS in February after a former KCPS employee alerted DESE. The district then launched an internal investigation. In May, after the internal investigation implicated current employees, the district hired an outside law firm to conduct the external investigation.
In November the district shared the findings of the outside investigation with DESE. Bedell said the external investigation did not find that employees had manipulated other records.
“We pulled all of those emails from those years and it would have revealed other anomalies if those things had occurred,” Bedell said. “And there's nothing in there. Everything was solely focused on this attendance piece.”
KCPS hasn’t released the external investigation to the public or the estimated additional state funding the district received. That estimate is expected to be released when it’s confirmed by DESE, according to a KCPS spokeswoman.
“The findings within the report revealed an unhealthy culture within parts of the school district’s staff several years ago,” Bedell said in a statement. “We have since worked tirelessly to build a new culture within the district, one that is geared toward achieving excellence while providing a workplace that inspires and empowers all people.”
Changes include the creation of an ethics hotline and a new policy that allows employees to directly contact the human resource officer with concerns.
“We've been open and transparent with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education so that we can assure them that safeguards are in place so that we are confident that (changing attendance data) will not happen again,” KCPS Board of Education Chair Pattie Mansur said.
In a statement, DESE spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said KCPS has kept the state updated on the investigation.
“DESE is working with KCPS officials to correct the falsified attendance data and collect the money owed back to the state and the Kansas City area charter schools,” McGowin said.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.