Columbus City Council President Claims He Did Not Kill Data Scandal Investigation

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UPDATED: Thursday January 30, 2014 10:40 AM

Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther claims he was deceived like everybody else about Columbus City Schools data rigging, despite an Auditor of State report that implies Ginther and others killed a possible internal investigation in 2005.

"This saddens me a great deal, to know, that we as a community have been misled," Ginther said in a sit down interview with 10 Investigates on Wednesday.

Ginther was a Columbus City Schools board member from 2001 to 2007.

The report shows Ginther was put on notice about data tampering by an anonymous email and an anonymous letter in 2004. The email alleged "cleansing" of student data. It also named data chief Steve Tankovich.

In the audit report, Ginther claimed that he did not pursue the email because it was not "specific enough to allow the (school district) auditor to investigate."

However, during his interview with investigative reporter Paul Aker, Ginther said he did pursue the matter.

"I had our internal audit staff, directed them to follow up and try to get some information," Ginther said. "They investigated for several months."

About 10 months later the issue came up again. This time the School District's internal auditor, Harold Saunders, wanted to investigate the allegations of scrubbing.

Saunders was told to stand down, according to the state audit report.

"(Saunders) met with the CCS School Board Audit and Accountability Committee, including Andrew Ginther (about the data scrubbing allegations)," the report says.

Ginther and his committee told Saunders questions about the matter had been resolved by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), according to the report.

"The members of the committee advised (Saunders) ODE had conducted a review of the data attendance matter," the state report says.

Ginther's committee advised Saunders ODE "had issued a report finding CCS had acted properly," the state report says. Ginther's committee then "removed the issue" from Saudners, according to the report.

Other "priorities" drove that decision, Ginther said in the 10 Investigates interview.

"When you're putting together a list of priorities, you have to do that based on risk," Ginther said.

Concurrent with the data scrubbing allegation, the district was missing money, Ginther said.

"At the same time, our internal audit function was conducting special reviews and investigations in schools throughout the district where there were missing funds," he said.

"This, based on the information we had at the time, fell down the priority list," Ginther said.

Ginther could not explain the Auditor of State’s conclusion that Ginther and another committee member told Saunders that ODE had investigated and determined everything had been done properly.

"I don't know why he would say that," Ginther said. "I never told him the internal auditor that the State Department of Education had approved of the tampering or data manipulation that taking place."

Ginther called the issue "a very complicated scheme" and pointed out that the state audit took 18 months to complete. Ginther said that is evidence that it was a difficult issue to unravel.

"I'm grateful," the Auditor of State spent so much time investigating, Ginther said. "To get to the bottom of a very complicated scheme that taxpayers and the people of this community needed to get to the bottom of."

The Auditor of State report says the district's failure to investigate in 2004 and 2005 delayed the exposure of the problem for several years.

Had the district at least interviewed Steve Tankovich and his associates, "all the issues later brought to light in 2012...could have been earlier addressed in 2005," the report says.

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