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Auditor investigates allegations of falsified attendance records by St. Louis Public Schools

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 2, 2011 - The Missouri auditor's office is investigating what it calls serious, credible allegations that the St. Louis Public Schools falsified attendance records to get more state money and to appear to comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

A release from Auditor Tom Schweich's office Monday said subpoenas had been served on administrators in the city school district "to ensure the preservation of evidence and to compel testimony."

The statement also said Schweich had activated a special rapid response team -- the Auditor's Swift Assessment Program, or ASAP -- to investigate the allegations.

"At this time," Schweich said, "pursuant to our ASAP protocol, we believe we need to preserve relevant evidence, and I have activated our rapid response program to do just that."

Schweich said that evidence and testimony gathered by the quick response team would be used to determine whether records were altered and whether a more detailed audit of the city schools needs to be performed.

Darrell Moore, chief litigation counsel and director of ASAP, said:

"I am hopeful for the full cooperation of the administration and employees of the St. Louis Public School District. Although these are just allegations, we will work to quickly determine the nature of any problem that may exist with the district's attendance records."

The city school system released a statement late Monday that said in its entirety:

"The St. Louis Public School District has received the subpoenas issued by the Missouri State Auditor's Office and will cooperate."

Officials did not identify the school or schools involved in the investigation. STLtoday said investigators are looking at the Patrick Henry Downtown Academy.

Schweich said the ASAP team is activated when substantial and credible evidence exists to show fraud, violations of state or federal law or "significant misappropriation, mismanagement, or waste of public resources." It also can go into action if there is "significant risk of loss of confidence of the people in their government due to fiscal abuse or mismanagement" or there is "the need for immediate action to preserve relevant evidence and/or prevent continued harm."

When appropriate, he said, his office will refer allegations to "the attorney general or other proper authorities." Schweich asked anyone who would like to provide information to contact his office at 800-347-8597 or via email at moaudlt@auditor.mo.gov.

Michele Clark, spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said attendance may be calculated three different ways: previous year attendance, attendance from two years ago or, for growing districts, estimates at the end of each semester. Payments out of the state's foundation formula are based on attendance.

Clark said the St. Louis Public Schools used attendance from two years previous as their basis for reporting. Each district has an outside audit every year, she said, and the state education department also does what she called a quality check to make sure the numbers make sense.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.