"Although these are rare, especially considering the hundreds of thousands of exams, there are enough of them to warrant concern," Reinhard said. "We believe the electronic analysis will provide us information in a more timely fashion."

City school officials said that the Caveon contract would "be in line with how the state was now conducting its analysis, and fair to schools to get to closure by expediting the cases." They said the city system has to bear the cost for doing analyses for previous years.

They later acknowledged that Caveon will not conduct electronic scans, but manual ones.

Molly Rath, communications director for the school system, said the analysis — conducted by 11 Caveon staff members at $300 an hour — will include booklet tabulation, data comparison, and detailed analysis and reports.

In 2010, Abbottston experienced plummeting test scores, by as much as 50 percent in some grades. School officials argued that the declines at Abbottston were drastic enough to suggest the school had cheated.

The union fought the removal of Faltz as well as that of Abbottston's assistant principal and testing coordinator, Marcy Isaac, for nearly a year in legal proceedings heard by two independent hearing officers, attorneys hired by the school system to hear cases and render opinions.

Both officers said that the district failed to meet its burden of proof that cheating had ever taken place at Abbottston, after several witnesses — including the school system's chief investigators — admitted they could not conclude the school had cheated.

The hearing officers recommended both be reinstated with back pay and criticized the system's investigation, calling the manual erasure analysis on which it was built "crude" and "incompetent."

After the hearing officers issued their recommendations, union and system officials presented oral arguments before the city school board.

The arguments, held June 26, were closed to the public. But in transcripts obtained by The Baltimore Sun, the school system attorneys pointed to a recent case in which the Court of Special Appeals upheld a second-degree murder conviction based on circumstantial evidence. But that evidence included a body, cell phone records and an eyewitness to suspicious behavior, one board member noted.

On Aug. 27, the city school board voted to reinstate Faltz in 2013 and to uphold the dismissal of Isaac for breaking test security protocols. The union protested both decisions.

"Now the city school system is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional resources in a vain attempt to bolster their worthless case, while [the two administrators] continue to languish without pay," Gittings said in the statement.

Since 2011, the district has spent nearly $700,000 to deploy independent test monitors to quell doubts that the system's progress was real after Alonso announced three cheating scandals in two years.

School board president Neil Duke said the contract is further investment in the district's safeguards against cheating.

"The district has taken extraordinary steps in recent years to guard against testing improprieties," Duke said in a statement. "In a sense, this contract is designed to aid the district's validation of our academic progress."

But at least one school board member thought it was a poor way to use funds that could be going to student services.

"It's really sad that we have to spend hard-earned, taxpayer money on things like this instead of enrichment," school board Commissioner David Stone said after the board approved the contract.

City school officials said that an actual contract does not exist and that the board only approved the price and purpose. Details will be finalized later.

erica.green@baltsun.com

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