State to issue audit of EBR school system on Sunday

The Louisiana Department of Education has completed a controversial audit of four years’ worth of high school graduation records in East Baton Rouge Parish, examining whether students are getting diplomas without earning sufficient credits.

The agency, however, is not releasing the audit publicly until late Sunday, the state superintendent of education said Friday.

Superintendent John White, who announced the audit on Jan. 9, would not discuss the findings prior to the audit’s release. He said plans to send a copy to Superintendent Bernard Taylor on Sunday night. White also said he briefed School Board President David Tatman and Vice President Tarvald Smith on Friday morning about the findings.

Neither Tatman nor Smith returned phone messages seeking comment.

White said he has also given copies of the audit to the state inspector general and the legislative auditor for possible further investigation.

Keith Bromery, spokesman for the school system, released a statement saying, “The district has been and will continue to be fully cooperative with the records audit conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education, as well as with any other agencies that become involved in this matter.”

Bromery added: “The district is withholding comment on the audit findings until it receives the official report and has the opportunity to review it.”

White called for the records audit of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system as a result of a “discrepancy in graduation records,” which school system officials have identified as one student who graduated in May but whom they later determined was one credit short. White, however, indicated at the time that he had received complaints of other possible discrepancies and wanted to see how widespread such problems were.

Some news reports at the time suggested White was going further by looking into allegations of student cheating. Four days after his announcement, White emailed local lawmakers clarifying that the audit was not provoked by “test scores or cheating on tests.”

Several elected and community leaders, however, were not satisfied and held a Jan. 15 press conference during which they blamed White for not doing enough to quell the controversy earlier.

The stakes are high for East Baton Rouge Parish. Graduation rates account for 50 percent of a high school’s annual performance score. If enough students are found to have graduated improperly, the state has the authority to recalculate those scores retroactively, which might affect the school’s score and perhaps its letter grade.

The audit also arrives as the school system is trying to respond to new legislative efforts to restructure the school system as an alternative to possible incorporation of much of the unincorporated parish to form a new city of St. George and to allay the impatience among business leaders with the pace of school reform.