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Audit faults security of city school records

The Baltimore Sun

An internal audit found that Baltimore public schools do not have sufficient security for records of current students and graduates, risking the possibility that grades could be changed or that graduates could wait weeks to get a copy of their transcripts.

A draft of the report, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, says that there are too few controls on academic records stored in the school system's computer system, making it too easy for someone to change a student's grades. The report, dated June 20, suggested several changes to the system, some of which school officials say have been completed.

The report notes how hard it can be for city graduates to get copies of their high school transcripts when they need them to apply for a job or a Social Security benefit or to enlist in the military.

The report describes the student records, dating to the 1880s, as being in disarray, having been recently moved from the basements of many high schools to a central location.

"We noted that the academic records ... had not been sorted, organized and properly stored, and many lay in disarray in various locations throughout the facility," the report says.

School administrators say they have been working to resolve many of the issues and that there are no major problems.

"I don't see anything in the report [that says] 'school system, danger, we have got a problem.' What I see is the school system working through issues it didn't historically address," said Jonathan Brice, the executive director of support services, who oversees student records.

City schools chief Andres Alonso said there have been nine internal audits of school system departments in the past year that included 120 recommendations.

"Clearly, we should be looking at every department to improve our processes," he said.

Most teachers do not have access to the computer system where grades are stored, Brice said, but principals, assistant principals and some administrative staff members in each school do. The computer system tracks all grade changes and who made them, he said.

"We think what we have now is enough, but we are adding a grade change report," he said. After every quarter, the principal of every school will have to report all grade changes to the central office.

The report comes a year after a state audit turned up evidence that missing and incomplete student records were widespread problems in the school system. The schools chief at the time threatened 120 principals with disciplinary action if they did not provide records for every student by a certain date.

In addition, Andrey Bundley, a former principal of Walbrook High School and mayoral candidate, was suspended by the city schools in 2004 and then reassigned after an audit showed that 93 of his students had received diplomas without completing the requirements for graduation. Other students were promoted to the next grade without having enough credits.

Brice gave a tour last week of a floor of the Professional Development Center on Northern Parkway, where the records are stored, to prove, he said, that they are now in order. He pointed out that the door to the floor is locked and that filing cabinets are now being stored in old classrooms. A worker was installing locks Wednesday on classroom doors.

The report noted that the filing cabinets in which the records are kept are not fireproof, but Brice said they are stored in a brick building where the chance of fire is small.

Brice said all of the paper records will be put into digital form by the end of this school year and that his goal is to be able to fill a request for a record within 24 hours. It now takes about five days, he said. About 75 to 100 requests for transcripts come in from the public every weekday. In the past, graduates have described more than a month of delays in securing a job offer while they waited for the school system to find the records of their graduation.

The audit was conducted by E. Darrell Hope, director of the school system's office of internal audits, who reports to the city school board, not Alonso. Hope said his office will follow up this school year to see whether the school system has fulfilled its promises to resolve the problems. He declined to release a final report that his office had done after input from school system staff.

Although the letter and initial report were copied to members of the school board's finance and audit committee, several members said they had not seen or read it.

Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman, who headed the board's finance committee until June 30, said he had not seen the report. Neither had Brian Morris, the school board president, who is now in charge of the finance and audit committee. School board member James Campbell said he would ask to see the audit.

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