Missouri audit: Attendance altered at St. Louis school

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A St. Louis elementary school appeared to alter its data to boost its attendance figures, a state audit released Tuesday concluded.

The state auditor’s office said most teachers at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy were instructed to manually complete attendance forms despite policies from St. Louis Public Schools that require teachers to record student attendance in a computerized system. Auditors said they found numerous discrepancies between the manual and computerized records that had the net result of increasing attendance.

Officials said they could not determine who altered records, but stated that a front office employee at the school said in a sworn deposition that the school’s principal instructed her to make changes to the data in the computerized system.

“It appears that attendance records were altered, overstating actual student attendance, and the sworn testimony we obtained suggests the principal directed these changes,” the state audit report said.

According to the audit, problems with the school’s attendance records were noticed over several school years. It found hundreds of absences and tardies were marked on the manual records and where not included in the computerized system. It also found numerous absences or tardies that were included in the computerized system but were not recorded in the manual records. The elementary school had reported the best attendance among St. Louis Public Schools in 2010.

Higher enrollment and attendance might have helped the elementary school meet progress requirements and could have allowed it draw more public funding.

St. Louis Public Schools said it considered the audit’s findings to be significant. Officials said the district has reviewed the procedures followed by its other schools and found overall compliance with attendance and enrollment processes.

“While the district considers the issues raised in the report to be of grave concern and fully intends to follow-up on the testimony and findings contained in the report, the district’s review did not produce information suggesting that the auditor’s findings are indicative of a district-wide pattern of school sites failing to follow district attendance and enrollment data collection procedures,” the St. Louis school district said in a written statement.

The school district said in a written response that was included with the audit that it planned to review and update enrollment data from the school and submit necessary changes to state education officials.

Esperansa Veal, the principal of Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, was placed on administrative leave in May when the state auditor’s office announced it was investigating the school. The school district said she has remained on leave.

There was no answer Tuesday to a St. Louis phone number listed for an Esperansa Veal. The auditor’s office said Veal was subpoenaed for its review but declined to provide testimony.

State Auditor Tom Schweich released the audit findings Tuesday during a news conference in St. Louis.

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