- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Several state school board members are calling for an independent investigation of the Ohio Department of Education and state superintendent amid concerns about the handling of charter school evaluations and the creation of a Youngstown schools plan.

In a letter dated Monday to state Superintendent Richard Ross, the seven board members said an investigation is needed to ensure the department and Ross’ credibility and compliance with state laws and rules.

The board members’ letter follows a former state education official’s decision to exclude failing grades for charter schools in evaluations of the schools’ overseers.

David Hansen, the School Choice director for the Education Department, resigned July 18 after confirming that he left F grades for online and dropout recovery schools off evaluations of charter school sponsors. He said he felt the marks would “mask” successes elsewhere.

The evaluations have been retracted.

Hansen’s wife is the former chief of staff to Republican Gov. John Kasich. She recently left the role to work for Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign.

In their letter, the school board members told Ross he was “a prime suspect” in what occurred with the evaluations.

“Mr. Hansen may have taken the fall, but you were his boss,” they wrote. “Whether by mismanagement, or deliberate instruction to Mr. Hansen, you are culpable as well.”

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Tuesday from two board members who signed it - Stephanie Dodd and Roslyn Painter-Goffi. Other board members on the letter were Pat Bruns, Ann Jacobs, A.J. Wagner, Michael Collins and Mary Rose Oakar. The seven are elected members of the 19-member board, which has one vacancy.

“If we are serious about our credibility, the board, not you, must engage an independent firm to investigate you and the Department of Education” to determine compliance with state and federal laws, rules and procedures, the members wrote.

Asked about the letter, a state Education Department spokesman said officials are working on a comprehensive plan to ensure compliance and accuracy with evaluations.

“Dr. Ross agrees that there are issues that need to be addressed with the system of sponsor evaluation,” said Michael Sponhour, the department’s communication and outreach director, in a written statement. “The state auditor will also be looking at this matter as part of his regular review of our agency and we welcome his review.”

Kasich described the call for the investigation as “just a political thing” during a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Tuesday, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Asked about Hasen, Kasich said, “He was let go. Hopefully, over time all the facts that surround that will come out.”

The seven board members also said in their letter that they want a review of the role the superintendent and department had in legislation that puts a CEO in charge of running Youngstown’s city schools.

Under the measure that was signed into law by the governor last month, the state superintendent would appoint three of five members of a new academic distress commission for the district. The commission would then pick a CEO to have full reign of the schools.

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