State Auditor questions if CCS violated law in superintendent search


There is new controversy surrounding the search for a new leader for Columbus City Schools.

The Auditor of State says the district may have broken the law in its search for a superintendent.

The search for a new Superintendent for Columbus City Schools officially began in September.

The district voted to pay a recruiting firm $50,000 to conduct a national search. In December, the district announced 19 candidates had applied.

On February 12, the school board voted to approve three finalists for the job, and on February 21, narrowed it to two candidates.

But it's what happened in between those votes that has caught the attention of Ohio's Auditor of State Dave Yost.

"Public business, public decisions have to be made in public, not in some back room," Yost said.

In a letter sent to the board of education Tuesday, Yost says, "information brought to my attention raises concerns that the process (the district) used to select a new superintendent may be in violation" of Ohio's Open Meetings Law.

"We don't know what the facts are just yet," Yost told 10TV. "But there's questions whether these decisions were made ahead of time and simply ratified by the board after they were already made."

Yost says his questions are based in part on independent information, but also reporting by the Columbus Dispatch.

In January, the Dispatch reported:

"The Columbus Board of Education has not only been interviewing a secret list of candidates to become the next district superintendent, but it has added names not on the list of 19 applicants it released in December."

The paper also alleged: "The board...has been making official board decisions in potentially illegal private meetings."

"Look, it's your kids, it's your tax dollars," said Yost. "It's your schools. They don't get to run this out of some back room as though it's a private enterprise. They're accountable to the public, and my job is to make sure that they answer to the public."

Through a spokesperson, CCS Board Members declined to address these concerns on camera.

But in a statement to 10TV, the district said it has been "very public and open about the search."

It said "there seems to be confusion at the State Auditor's Office based on misleading reporting by the Dispatch."

"There's no confusion on the part of this office," answered Yost. "There are questions that are clear. There is an objective truth. And we will find out what it is."

The Auditor's Office is conducting a "preliminary inquiry" into the district's search and has ordered CCS to turn over all public records related to it.

If the investigation finds the district violated the law, Yost says CCS would have to start from scratch.

The editor of the Columbus Dispatch tells 10TV:

"The school board said it would conduct an open and transparent search, and the evidence shows that it has not done that. Our reporting shows that the search process has been opaque at best...We stand by our stories."

On February 28, the field dropped from two candidates to one, when David James, the superintendent at Akron Public Schools, withdrew from consideration.

The remaining candidate is Interim CCS Superintendent John Stanford.

The district says it has not decided how to proceed in the wake of James's withdrawal.

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