A fired Kansas City Public Schools secretary who was among seven employees accused of falsifying attendance data in a bid to help the district regain accreditation said she and her co-workers were following orders from top administrators.
Former Central Middle School secretary LaQuyn Collier told The Kansas City Star that she gave administrators “exactly what they said they needed.” She and another fired employee have hired an attorney to try to get their jobs back.
Emails obtained by the newspaper show that administrators asked secretaries to gather at the district’s central office to review “several attendance recording issues” in the summer of 2014 during the time in which an investigation found that the tampering happened. Attendance is among the criteria Missouri uses in giving out performance scores that determine whether a district is unaccredited, partially accredited or fully accredited.
Then-Superintendent Stephen Green, who had taken over the then-unaccredited district a year earlier, said in an email to his cabinet at the time that revisions in attendance records should raise the district’s score with the state by 5.5 points. He said: “Failure is not an option.” As an unaccredited district, the Kansas City school system faced the prospect of being subjected to a law that allows students to transfer to an accredited district, with the unaccredited district picking up the tab.
Collier said she and other secretaries were given lists of students whose attendance was “at 85 percent or higher,” just shy of the 90 percent mark the state demands. She said they were told to raise the attendance to 90 percent by changing certain codes in the district’s database.
“This was not about fixing errors,” she said. “If that was the case, why did they only give us students who were almost to 90?”
She said she believed her “job depended on” her doing what she was told.
By the time Green left in 2015, the district had provisional accreditation, which meant extra monitoring but allowed the school system to avoid a state takeover and paying for transfers. In November, the Dekalb County School District outside Atlanta severed ties with Green. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Department of Education is investigating him for failing to report potential ethics violations by teachers.
Green has said the attendance tampering happened without his knowledge. Al Tunis, who became interim superintendent after Green left, also said he was unaware of the tampering.
Green’s Kansas City contract provided up to $100,000 in bonuses for improved performance scores.
But Collier’s lawyer, Gerald Gray, notes his clients would receive no perks for changing attendance numbers. Gray said he believes that the firings “had nothing to do with what they had done but because they were willing to provide information about their knowledge of the attendance debacle.”
The district stopped the practice of bonus incentives when current Superintendent Mark Bedell was hired in 2016.
District officials stand by the disciplinary actions they took and said they may not be done with the matter. Because attendance also helps determine state funding, the district previously had to repay the state $192,730.
Spokeswoman Kelly Wachel said the district has a new person overseeing attendance and has taken steps to make sure this type of meddling never happens again.