State launches probe of EBR school system

Letter to East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on state's plans to audit the system.
Letter to East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on state's plans to audit the system.

The state is launching an investigation of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system amid allegations of “discrepancies among student graduation records,” state Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday.

White spelled out the plans in a letter to East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor.

White said the probe stems from “detailed complaints” about problems in the school district.

“We take such complaints seriously and plan to commence immediately an audit of the relevant records from the school system for school years ending between 2010 and 2013,” according to the letter.

White also asked that “all relevant electronic and hard copy records” be made available to the staff of the state Department of Education and for school and district officials to make themselves available for discussions with state officials.

Details of what sparked the investigation are unclear.

Taylor said Thursday that he does not know specifics of the allegation but is confident that the district will be cleared.

“We welcome the department to come in and review our records,” he said.

“We will be able to withstand any audit of graduation transcripts,” Taylor said, adding he was surprised that the state audit will go back to 2010.

Taylor began his job on June 18, 2012.

Barry Landry, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said White would have no comment Thursday beyond the contents of the letter.

“We are aware of at least one discrepancy with a graduation record that gives us cause for concern,” Landry said in an email message.

“We do not know the extent to this point,” Landry wrote. “We will be inquiring into that and looking at relevant records for the district.”

Taylor said about 1,000 students typically graduate in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system yearly.

The district has 42,130 students in this school year.

“I don’t think they will find any significant irregularities,” Taylor said. “I don’t see this as anything other than coming in and doing what they would do when someone makes an anonymous allegation.”

Taylor said on Wednesday that he had not been alerted to any state investigation into student cheating, which some media outlets reported.

Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge and is president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the state review needs to run its course.

“Obviously the information to be shared with us is serious enough that Superintendent White felt obligated to do the inquiry,” Roemer said, adding that he hopes the allegations prove false.

Carolyn Hill, who lives in Baton Rouge and is a member of BESE, said she plans to ask White for documentation on the allegations.

State Superintendent White and East Baton Rouge Superintendent Taylor have clashed in the past.

Last year White accused Taylor of moving children around district classrooms “to cover up problems in those schools.” White called the moves “cynical” and enough to spark questions on Taylor’s desire for change.

Taylor said the transfers followed parental input and said he made no apologies for wanting to avoid state takeovers of troubled schools in his district.

Taylor said Thursday he does not think any past differences are involved in the current controversy.

“I don’t see this as anything antagonistic or mean-spirited or anything like that,” he said.

White asked Taylor to have a district official contact Stephen Osborn, assistant superintendent of student programs, by the end of business on Friday to schedule an initial meeting.