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Education

Maryland education department may ask Baltimore school system to return funds after enrollment inflation scheme at high school

Maryland State Department of Education may ask the Baltimore City Public School system to return funds that were wrongly disbursed to a city high school as a result of a scheme to inflate enrollment.

City school leaders released a report Thursday on an investigation into the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, where four administrators were found to have fabricated courses, inflated enrollment and approved students for graduation when they had failed to legitimately pass classes.

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Over a three-year period, about 100 students remained on the Augusta Fells Savage’s rolls but didn’t attend the school. The system has since corrected some enrollment records, but about 70 instances remain in which “suspicious actions” by staff resulted in the school getting funding for 52 students that “could not be documented or validated,” according to the report.

While the state education department is reviewing the Augusta Fells Savage case, typically the department asks for funds awarded in error to be returned, said MSDE spokeswoman Lora Rakowski.

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“The findings at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts are deeply troubling, and we appreciate the swift investigation, report and follow-through from Baltimore City Schools in this matter,” Rakowski said in an email. “Given that wrongdoing has been done, it will need to be rectified.”

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Officials have not said how much funding must be returned to the state in this instance.

Funding for schools is based on a per-pupil model, so when the enrollment is inflated, more money is disbursed to the school than should be. The city schools report notes that the Maryland State Department of Education audited city enrollment in 2017 and 2019, including records at Augusta Fells Savage, and found no problems.

The Baltimore City school system said it has entered discussions with the Maryland State Department of Education concerning the matter.

Maryland State Department of Education’s audit and accountability offices will follow up with city school officials to “ensure corrective actions are taken where necessary,” Rakowski said.

The school system’s investigative unit interviewed 30 staff members and examined student transcripts, dozens of documents and emails from September 2019 to the present, uncovering more problems than expected.

In addition to the false enrollment figures, the Augusta Fells Savage school offered courses that were designed to allow students to make up credits but did not meet standards. The investigation also found that administrators pressured staff and teachers to change student grades.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

For the record

This article has been corrected to indicate that the Maryland Department of Education has not made a final determination about whether it will ask Baltimore City Public Schools to return funds that were wrongly awarded to Augusta Fells Savage Institute. The Sun regrets the error.


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