KCPS admits past employees lied to state about student attendance for multiple years


School classroom with blackboard

Data pix.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A new report shows Kansas City Public Schools didn't tell the whole truth to the state when it comes to student attendance.

The district learned of concerns about bad data in January and now has the report from an outside investigator's findings.

Having kids show up to school is a core mission of Kansas City Public Schools, but the district's struggled with boosting attendance numbers for decades.

"It's going to take time to get systems solid and then for systems to start working in manner where we can have some sustainability with growth we need to see with attendance rates," Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell said.

The state of Missouri gives districts a bonus for getting 90% of kids in class, with higher performance scores and extra state funding.

KCPS said, in January, an employee flagged concerns to the state that, in the 2015-16 school year, school employees changed the district's true attendance numbers to help boost the district's scores.

Bedell said he pushed for an investigation to get to the bottom of it.

"One of things I wanted to do as superintendent was look at two years prior and every year since I've been here because sometimes people may not be doing these things on purpose," Bedell said. "The report may have revealed we just have terrible practices and also revealed those practices are still taking place under my tenure."

The investigation ultimately revealed that in school years from 2013-2016, at least seven district workers coordinated to inflate district attendance numbers.

Bedell, who started in fall 2016, said investigators found the misreporting hasn't happened under his watch.

"He identified we had weaknesses in the system, so we strengthened the ethics policy," said Pattie Mansur, KCPS school board president. "We strengthened and communicated widely the whistle-blower policy."

There's now an ethics hotline, website to report problems and additional training for staff, and the district's added extra security layers to how data gets submitted to the state.

The district just hopes the past problems don't stain the hard work that's ongoing to get KCPS re-accredited.

"Our people have worked hard, and I value what our people are doing for the children in this city," Bedell said.

KCPS will be held liable to pay back extra money it got during the years it didn't earn the extra attendance money from the state, which will come from the district's cash reserves. The state said it'll let the district know how much it owes Thursday.

As for the people who took part in the scheme to change the numbers, none still work for the district. The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office said it's not gotten a case referral, but will evaluate the allegations to determine if charges are warranted.

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