The Richmond Public Schools are correcting falsely reported expulsion data submitted to the State Board of Education for the past five years. But what fallout may come from the misreported information remains unanswered.
The school administration submitted the data as part of its yearly reporting to the state. Posted on the state's Web site along with similar data from the other school districts, the city schools report just one expulsion from 2004 through 2009.
Expulsion, defined as banning a pupil from city schools for an entire school year, shouldn't be confused with suspensions, another troubling set of data for the Richmond system. In the 2007-2008 school year, Richmond schools, which have just fewer than 24,000 pupils, doled out 13,500 suspensions.
Former School Board member Carol A.O. Wolf, who sat on the discipline committee, pointed out the expulsion error in a letter to Superintendent Yvonne Brandon in July, a month before the district sent its corrected data to the state.
“I find it disturbing that there are so many excuses and so little accountability,” Wolf says. “If the RPS School Board fails to hold itself or the superintendent accountable, we can only hope that the state superintendent will.”
But school officials dispute that an error occurred.
“Technically, we didn't report incorrect data,” Richmond Schools spokesman Alfonso Mathis writes in an e-mail, saying problems with an “internal [computer] system” meant “some of our information was being lost in the transition.”
The revised numbers show dozens of pupils expelled during each of those years, a total of 190 expulsions from 2004 through 2009. “Since our initial reporting to the State,” Mathis writes, “this situation has been rectified.”
Even the corrected numbers may have discrepancies. The numbers reported to the state for the most recent two years of reporting, according to Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle, are not the same as the numbers provided to Wolf by the school district in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The recently resubmitted figures currently available on the state Web site show 47 expulsions in 2007-2008 and 34 in 2008-2009, compared with 58 and 39 reported to Wolf.
Both the current superintendent, Yvonne Brandon, and former superintendent, Deborah Jewell-Sherman, signed off on the incorrect numbers sent to the state. There can be stiff penalties for supplying incorrect data to the state board because it affects distribution of state and federal funds. Failing to supply accurate data exposes superintendents to a variety of penalties, ranging from fines to suspension or removal from their jobs.
School Board Chairwoman Chandra Smith was unavailable for comment, but the board's vice chairwoman, Kim Gray, says the matter “really concerns me.”
“I think that there are questions out there that are unanswered,” she says, indicating that it might be appropriate for the board to seek further information regarding the matter from Brandon: “There are questions worth probing.”