With a former student and teacher from the Horizon Science Academy flanking him Monday, Ohio Rep. John Patrick Carney charged Republican Auditor of State David Yost with not launching an investigation contemporaneous with the violations that the Ohio Board of Education heard last week from four teachers who worked for the charter school.
But the whistleblower teachers might soon find themselves under the microscope. The agency headed by Dr. Richard Ross, an appointee of Gov. John R. Kasich, whose future aspirations to jump into presidential politics in 2016 or sooner rests wholly on winning a second term this fall, said last Thursday that it has contacted the local children services agency and law enforcement about the accusations.
Meanwhile, Auditor Dave Yost, running for a second term and being opposed by Carney, the endorsed Democratic Party candidate, has now started his own probe into the Dayton charter and 18 other affiliated schools. Just days after the teachers testified about what they heard, saw and experienced, Yost entered the arena. The four educators spoke to possible standardized state test tampering, sexual misconduct among students, theft and racial and ethnic discrimination, among other complaints, reported by one Capital Square news service.
“The fact that we heard those complaints at the board meeting from the people that testified put us into action and we began to investigate,” ODE spokesman John Charlton said in an interview. “The first thing we are doing is reaching out to each of those people who testified to get more details.” Among the complaints, some date back seven years while others are more recent. Mr. Charlton said it’s possible the educators who came forward could be investigated by the Office of Professional Conduct themselves. Those referrals and investigations remain confidential under law until action is taken against an educator’s license. “We would like to remind educators that they do have a responsibility as mandatory reporters and certainly we hope that the educators that testified were not withholding information for this political event that they pulled at the board meeting,” Charlton said.
In an editorial called “Are they serious?” the Akron Beacon Journal called Charlton’s words most revealing before laying into how ODEA has handled this affair so far. “They highlight the insufficient oversight and accountability for charter schools. They suggest that what has been a problem for years has deepened under the leadership of Richard Ross, the state school superintendent. The department appears to have a blind spot when it comes to charter schools. It is an attitude that troubles many who operate effective charter schools and want to see a tougher posture toward poor performers.”
“It seems that only after myself and the Ohio Education Association publicly called on the State Auditor to investigate this matter did Auditor Yost finally say he would,” Carney said in prepared remarks today. “It shouldn’t require weeks of breaking news stories to get the auditor of state’s attention to start doing his job.”
As recently as last Friday, Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate who wants to unseat Gov. Kasich this year, called for state Superintendent Richard Ross to resign over his handling of the Horizon charter school complaints. When asked by OhioNewsBureau if he would also call for Ross’s resignation, Rep. Carney expressed caution about reaching fatal conclusions before Yost releases his report.
Held at ODP headquarters in downtown Columbus, Rep. Carney slammed Yost for not doing more and sooner, but he pulled back from calling for Ross’s resignation, pending the findings of Yost’s investigation. With Kellie Kochensparger, a teacher at Dayton Horizon Science Academy until last year, and Kim Sun, a graduate from the charter school who attended the school all four years of his high school career, joining Rep. Carney today, Mr. Carney clarified his answer via a campaign spokesman following the media event.
“Rep. Carney prefers to look at the question from the perspective of his position as running for auditor, where hard facts are what should make a difference,” Kelley Ashford, Communication Director for Mr. Carney’s campaign, told OhioNewsBureau via email. “If the facts show that ODE called for an investigation into the whistleblowing teachers as retribution, then he would have grounds to call for the superintendent to step down.”
Asked what a reasonable turnaround time should be, Rep. Carney, an attorney who concentrates on health care issues, said he doesn’t expect it before the fall General Election.
Kochensparger said she has a job teaching writing to children in grades 6-8, and that she has not contacted an attorney to find out what her options, if any, because she hadn’t consider that option yet. “May be I should,” she said, adding, “I’ll wait and see what happens with ODE and any formal actions they take” against me. “The truth is on our side,” she said, expressing confidence that “people will know we were doing the right thing.” Kochensparger emphasized that it’s not about her or her colleagues, but it’s “speaking out for those who don’t have that voice.” She speculated that the activities and behavior at the school likely “started before she started to work there.”
Heeding the call of caution, much like Rep. Carney did today, she said her first ask is, “Let’s do the due diligence,” she said. Rep. Carney commented further on Yost’s inaction, saying, “To me it’s falling down on the job … it’s time to stand up and do the job they are supposed to be doing … let’s do the job for the taxpayers.”
Video of the press conference is included below.