The man who has been overseeing the Division of Accountability for the Ohio Department of Education announced his resignation less than two weeks after the state agency found itself under suspicion of wrongdoing in the investigation into irregularities in student attendance reporting.

William Zelei, Associate Superintendent of Accountability and Quality Schools, submitted his letter of resignation on August 6, only two days after the State Superintendent stepped down, and only 11 days after the State Auditor revealed that ODE was also under investigation for questionable activities regarding School District Accountability, especially regarding the department’s role in the oversight of district attendance reporting.  Zelei has been on the job for less than a year, starting as Associate Superintendent of Accountability on November 21, 2011 after being recruited to the post by ex-State Superintendent Stan Heffner.

Yesterday, The Columbus Dispatch extensively quoted Zelei about ODE’s strong stance on the attendance investigation, while neglecting to mention his imminent departure and his key position at the center of the probe.  Zelei admitted to the Dispatch that ODE oversight was not at a level that would have uncovered errors in data submissions by school districts which could have helped make corrections in a timely fashion.

The department is likely to ask the legislature to give it the authority to monitor schools more closely, said Bill Zelei, an associate superintendent at the department who oversees accountability.

Within the agency, there was not a focus on checking on whether people were providing valid information,” Zelei said in an interview with The Dispatch. “The assumption was, when the superintendent signs off on things, it is valid information. Now that we realize that things were happening that shouldn’t have been happening, I think it’s going to cause us to start looking at life a little bit differently.”

These comments are a far cry from the statements we have been subject to over the past two months from ODE that have deflected any departmental responsibility back on to local school districts.  Essentially, if districts were submitting data that did not square with ODE’s interpretation of the intent of the law or published guidelines, no one at ODE was paying attention, including Zelei and the Division of Accountability:

“We didn’t spend much time actually looking to see whether a school district was trying to scam the system somehow,” Zelei said.

We disagree with his outright characterization of the school districts’ work as a “scam” because it seems as though neither Zelei nor anyone else at ODE know whether any data submitted was accurate or erroneous.  That lack of factual knowledge also disqualifies Zelei and ODE from claiming to be in any position to evaluate a district’s intent upon submitting student data.  It would seem to us that knowing information about the data submitted (they didn’t) is a prerequisite to being able to render judgement on a district.

Alas, it appears as though Zelei will avoid any personal accountability for his role in the Auditor’s investigation as he has opted to vacate his position in a brazen effort to remove himself from the spotlight of this statewide scandal.

 

Evangelize!
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  • Googlet

    How about the people responsible for creating this reporting process? Zelei is out, now let’s see who will be next? This is far from over! It only gets bigger as the digging occurs. Let’s see we have an agency that lost their leader for ethics, lost a Supt to avoid ethical responsibility, have this Charlton guy running around saying it wasn’t us, someone who created a statewide information system with zero accountability and a team of people threatening employees not to talk. Sounds like we have only scratched the surface. Wait until they start uncovering spending, lack of oversight of other programs and employee behavior at ODE. I don’t think this place has seen anything yet!

  • halloweenjack

    Nice catch, Greg! What an incredibly irresponsible omission on the part of the Dispatch. Makes you wonder what else they’re conveniently leaving out if it doesn’t fit their narrative against Columbus (specifically) and traditional public education as a whole. Also, I’m pretty sure that it is wrong to assert that ODE doesn’t have the authority to review/audit attendance data to verify the validity of what is being submitted by districts. If I recall correctly, I believe the authority the state law is passive, meaning that ODE does have the authority but they’re not mandated to verify. How hard would it have been to at least do a couple of random audits each year to cover their ass, at least??

  • http://www.facebook.com/frank.latella Frank M Latella

    Why isn’t anyone talking about the cumbersome, confusing, system that was put in place to track attendance. Why isn’t any reporting on the possibility of clerical error for years due to poor training, or complex systemic issue with reporting attendance ?

  • gregmild

    My opinion — #1, too complex to explain to the ordinary reader of newspapers. #2, they don’t understand it enough to even begin to try to explain it.

  • DublinIrishBob

    Thanks again, Greg, for reporting this. It explains why The Dispatch did not run an anti-education story today.

  • Dmoore

    Usually an organization rots from the top down which appears to be the case here. These people come from the districts with big egos to begin with and surely don’t expect to do any work once there. These are status jobs to pad their retirements. So it’s no wonder they are uninformed and just plain ignorant about important matters. They figure they can always blame someone beneath them claiming it’s impossible for someone in their position to know all the details. Why shouldn’t they know the details about something as important as this? They’re getting paid handsomely to be in a position of authority and responsibility. But like the famous Paul Brown once said of an incomptent coach, “I don’t blame him, I blame the guy who hired him.” Which points in the direction of the State Board of Education.

  • Janice

    ODE would not know accountability if it smacked their windshield. The notion they have this department is ridiculous. The attendance issue amplifies poor leadership, the evidence of frivolous unaccounted spending, the incompetent management of employees, and obviously shady technology practices like 2am data switches on a website is not what taxpayers want! We want results for students. Not a building of unethical bullies.

  • Awkward Annie

    That’s a shame but not shocking. No wonder people just disappeared from ODE. I and a lot of others really hated seeing some people leave but now it all makes sense. They wanted to do right.

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