Auditors clear many cases in EBR graduation report, but most records missing

An auditing firm hired by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has re-examined hundreds of high school student records flagged by state auditors and determined that many of those students had correct grades and did graduate, but the auditors were not able to resolve most of the inconsistencies highlighted.

Representatives of Postlethwaite & Netterville presented their findings to the School Board on Thursday night.

The auditors conducted two reviews, an “academic records review” and a “graduation cohort rate review,” that involved 95 students and 181 students, respectively. These were “exceptions,” students whose print records were missing, incomplete or didn’t match those that were reported electronically to the state.

Of the 95 problematic cases examined in the review, Postlethwaite & Netterville were able to clear 26 of them. In 69 cases, the auditors couldn’t locate the records necessary to clear them.

Of the 181 student records examined in the graduation cohort rate review, P&N was able to clear 36 and partially clearly 30 more. That left 115 cases where the auditors couldn’t locate the records necessary to clear them.

Laura Soileau, associate director at P&N, explained the 30 partial clearances this way:

“While the documentation may not have been what was required, we were able to confirm that the students transferred to a different school, and they graduated,” Soileau said.

The P&N audit was sparked by a controversial state audit earlier this year that found, among other things, that some students earned grades or credits that differed from those the school system later reported to the state, suggesting possible wrongdoing by school administrators, human error or both.

The audit, released March 16, examines in depth how one Glen Oaks High School student — School Board member Vereta Lee later went public to say the student is a granddaughter of hers — was allowed to walk with her graduating classmates.

P&N auditors made clear they found no evidence of wrongdoing, but did recommend additional controls and procedures in addition to ones the school system adopted in April to prevent similar problems in the future.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor said the P&N audit was helpful, though he stopped short of endorsing a recommendation for shifting to paperless student records, saying that needs more examination.

“I think it’s a fair conclusion that there was no malfeasance, coercion, scandal, any of that hyperbole that was put out there when this first surfaced,” Taylor said. “That stuff just didn’t happen.”

Soileau said some of the student records are missing because they go back more than four years. The state requires such records be kept only for four years.

She said the missing records were “inconsistencies,” and that doesn’t mean that graduation requirements weren’t met.

One improvement would be to try to automate more of the record keeping and to monitor and audit them more frequently, she said.

“The manual nature of many of these processes could have led to inconsistencies in the records,” Soileau said.

Editor’s note: The web headline on this story was modified on July 18, 2014. The words “many” and “most” were transposed in the original.