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Columbus School Data Scandal Bleeds Into Mayoral Primary Campaign

Columbus Mayoral candidates debate issues on WOSU TV's Columbus on the Record.
Columbus Mayoral candidates debate issues on WOSU TV's Columbus on the Record.

The race for Columbus mayor includes two candidates who served on the Columbus school board when indications first surfaced of a data manipulation scheme. 

During a debate on WOSU’s Columbus on the Record, those candidates defended their school board service.

  Republican Terry Boyd and democrat Andrew Ginther both want to lead the city. But questions have been raised about their leadership as school board members.

“I’m really proud of my record on the Board of Education,” says Andrew Ginther.

Early in his term, as chair of the school board’s audit committee, Ginther received tips from unknown sources alleging attendance and grade tampering. During an exchange with Columbus on the Record host, Mike Thompson, Ginther says he followed up.

“I’m the only former board member that worked with the auditor of state’s office to help untangle this mess that really put our city and our community in harm’s way,” says Ginther.
Q): The auditor’s report says though that you told him or his investigators that these e-mails weren’t specific enough, even though they use terms like ‘cooking the books’ and the attendance data was suspicious. How does that jive with what you just said?
“The audit went on for years. It was ongoing until I left the board of education and joined city council in 2007,” Ginther answered.

According to a state audit report, Ginther concluded the red flags lacked specific information and no internal audit was launched.

Terry Boyd served as board vice-president in 2005, a year after Ginther received tips on possible data tampering. Boyd says the full board lacked any knowledge of the allegations.

“The internal auditor was not directed to bring that to the full board. Andy did not bring it to the full board. So the full board was not knowledgeable about that particular aspect of the internal auditor’s investigation,” says Boyd.

Mayoral candidates James Ragland and Zach Scott say Ginther and Boyd’s school board record shows lack of leadership. Scott is especially critical of Ginther.

“Being on the school board is one thing, being actually the chair of the audit committee, that’s your job, that’s about leadership. It’s about I have to dig into this thing.”

Ragland asks Ginther and Boyd to re-examine their school board service.

“I continue to ask for an apology from my colleagues here for the role that they played in that data scandal. Unfortunately, hundreds if not thousands of children were negatively impacted by the work that you guys did not do,” says Ragland.

Neither Ginther nor Boyd apologized.

“Anything that came to the board we worked on. If it didn’t come to the board, how is the board to know,” says Boyd.

“I feel very good about what I did as a member of the board of education and chairing, leading the Audit and Accountability Committee,” adds Ginther.

Columbus voters will decide the mayoral primary next month. The two candidates with the most votes will advance to the November general election.