KCPS addresses inaccurate attendance data

Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

Kansas City Public School (KCPS) Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell and Board Chair Pattie Mansur addressed the Kansas City community Wednesday, Nov. 20 regarding inaccurate reporting of attendance data that occurred during the 2013-2016 school years.

Dr. Bedell, who joined KCPS in June of 2016, stated that seven employees have been identified in connection with the incident, three of whom are no longer employed with KCPS and four who are on administrative leave.

An investigation into this incident was launched after a former KCPS employee reported allegations of falsification of student attendance to the Department of Elementary of Secondary Education (DESE) in January 2019. A month later, DESE then met with KCPS to discuss the allegations.

The year in question was the 2015-2016 school year, but Dr. Bedell and the board thought it best that the investigation include school years 2013 into the present, including years that he was superintendent.

In April 2019, an internal KCPS meeting was held to review the investigation, in which KCPS leaders decided to move the investigation outside of the district and hire a data forensics company.

The investigation revealed that from 2013 to 2016, before Dr. Bedell was part of KCPS, a small group of KCPS employees electronically manipulated attendance records in order to achieve a higher percentage score.

Higher attendance percentage scores that are reported to the state resulted in the district receiving a higher-than-earned score in the Missouri School Improvement Performance Standards as well as more funding from the state than was actually earned.

Dr. Bedell said the specific dollar number that the district was over-funded has not been officially calculated, but would not have any impact on future funding KCPS would receive.

The district, however, will owe that amount as a debt to the state, which Dr. Bedell said they are fully prepared to pay back.

The dollar amount, he did note, was not significant enough for more funding to be the goal of the falsified documents. The goal, he said, was an increase percentage score for accreditation purposes.

DESE computes an Annual Progress Report (APR) score for each district, which is comprised of academic achievement, subgroup achievement, high school or college and career readiness, attendance rate, and graduation rate.

“We know at this point that because it wasn’t done for funding purposes, we don’t anticipate a significant amount. We are verifying it right now with DESE.  It’s my understanding that it was for accreditation purposes. There was no intent do this around increasing money. We had a very healthy fund balance at that point, once we made the school closures in 2010-2011,” said Dr. Bedell.

The district, which has been working toward full accreditation, received the highest APR score in district history last year, receiving an 82.9 percent total.

This number, Dr. Bedell said, could be subject to change if DESE decides to remove points. However, he said the score would still remain above 70 percent.

“It would knock us down to 77 or 78 percent. We would have hit over 70 percent last year regardless, whether we got attendance points or not,” he said.

Ms. Mansur said that while this incident will not impact any progress the district has made in recent years, it is distressing.

“This investigation does not limit our progress,” she said. “It’s distressing and we have to apologize to the community because we are in this place. We want to restore community trust. I don’t feel that that limits our ability to achieve the growth we need, but we need to make an apology to the community.”

Echoing Ms. Mansur, Dr. Bedell said this incident does hurt the perception the community may have of the school district.

“It hurts us from a perception standpoint and that’s something we’ve been fighting,” he said. “We’ve been fighting perception for a long time and something like this will reinforce some of the negative feelings people have had about this system. I don’t want my faculty and staff to become discouraged regarding something that occurred before our time. We want to make sure that our people are encouraged that what they are doing is good work and it’s done with honesty and integrity and we are truly adding value to the lives of the children that are in our district.”

Dr. Bedell said the investigation revealed that this current administration was not responsible for the incident.

“Under my leadership as superintendent, there is nothing at this point that would reveal that we have engaged in any type of anomalies or funny business,” he said.

A recent release states that corrective measures have been implemented to address the findings of the investigation as well as the district’s internal audit, including implementing an Attendance Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), revised district-wide training for attendance monitors, district-wide standardized attendance documentation in compliance with DESE Attendance Reporting Policy, and improved management controls in the district’s student information system.

Many of these corrective measures were put in place based on an audit that was conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools, a national organization that exclusively represents the needs of urban public schools. The organization is made up of 76-member districts, including KCPS, and serves a total of 8.2 million students.

“We feel good about the systems that we have put in place,” Dr. Bedell said. “We got all of those things in place before [this attendance incident] ever became a problem. It was already in place by the end of my first year. We feel good about what we have in place in being able to prevent something like this from happening again.”

Dr. Bedell said he wants students and parents to maintain confidence in the school district, pointing to his work of honesty and transparency during his leadership.

“My reputation around how honest and transparent I’ve been with this community and the fact that we are doing this investigation the way we did, should further substantiate that we are doing things the right way,” he said.

Ms. Mansur said the seven individuals responsible for this incident do not reflect the goals and values of the entire district.

“The KCPS school board is very committed to being open and transparent about our strengths and our shortcomings and this is an example of that,” she said. “Fortunately for us, those shortcomings are those that are identified in this particular incident, occurred under previous administrations and not in this current one. We have great schools. We have amazing teachers and principals. We have more than 2,000 employees in this district, so the engagement of this group of individuals represents a very small segment of our overall workforce who come and deliver their best every single day.”

Dr. Bedell said ultimately, he is taking full ownership of the incident and will continue to strive to serve and improve the district every step of the way.

“At the end of the day, I’m not throwing anyone under the bus for this. I own it. When I signed up to take this district, I signed up to take everything that was good about it, everything that was bad about it, everything that was ugly about it. My job is to make sure we eliminate the ugly and the bad to the best of my ability.”

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