Office of Education Accountability launches 49 investigations last year on 612 complaints, director tells legislative subcommittee

06/21/2016 04:03 PM

FRANKFORT – The Office of Education Accountability, charged with investigating potential wrongdoing at local school districts, launched 49 inquiries on 612 written complaints last year, OEA Director David Wickersham told lawmakers Tuesday.

That means 8 percent of complaints sparked inquiries by the OEA in 2015, but Wickersham credits his agency’s screening process with weeding out grievances that are out of the agency’s jurisdiction.

“What we attempt to do is to very carefully screen and make a determination about whether a complaint that comes to us is something that we can take action on, and often what happens is we end up referring matters that come to us to some other agency for action or, frankly, it just doesn’t make out a complaint,” he told Pure Politics after the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee meeting.

“One of the things that we attempt to do is only get into matters we feel confident that we can prosecute to some resolution in either direction.”

Among its responsibilities, the OEA investigates potential wrongdoing within local school districts, including open records and meetings violations, illegal personnel decisions and fraud.

The agency closed 59 cases last year, with 48 of those resulting in 80 violations, Wickersham said in his testimony.

Most of the cases handled by the OEA end with recommendations that guilty parties receive additional training, he said.

“The assumption is that these are much more likely to be mistakes than they are an act of willful misconduct or a crime,” Wickersham told legislators on the subcommittee. “These are simply errors in judgement, frankly, quite often committed without any particular ill will, without any thought, without any intent to violate the law, statute or policy. For that reason, the recommendations and the resolutions that we make with districts are very much structured to be rehabilitative and not punitive.”

Repeat offenders are rare in Wickersham’s experience, he said.

“Typically if it does, it involves some issue regarding open meetings or open records, which is kind of an evolving area of the law, so occasionally there are repeated violations in a district based on slightly changed facts over a period of years, but it’s fairly unusual, typically because people take very seriously the fact of the investigation and the resolution and make some effort to conform their behavior going forward,” Wickersham told Pure Politics.


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