In today’s edition of the Columbus Dispatch, reporter Bill Bush claims that the schools tried to pay off internal auditor Tina Abdella back in 2004 because she was, in Bush’s words, “trying to investigate data rigging.”  The article, titled District tried to buy off auditor, liberally asserts that recent claims by Abdella are factual in nature while repeatedly questioning statements by district authorities that contradict the former auditor.

We thought it was strange that these claims conveniently arose seven years later during the midst of an attendance investigation, but we found it to be even more interesting that Abdella never made such claims during the process of her divorce from the schools.  And even stranger still is that Bill Bush never reported on this topic back in 2004-2005 when he was reporting on the contentious departure and obviously interviewed the disgruntled Abdella on multiple occasions.

Given that she declined to accept the district’s buyout and confidentiality agreement, Tina Abdella was well aware that she could speak freely about her work with no financial repercussions.  This fact must have been clearly understood by the Dispatch as they reported the key detail on March 25, 2005, in an article titled AUDITOR REJECTS OFFER FROM COLUMBUS SCHOOLS SETTLEMENT TALKS – began after district official received bad review in December.

In case that wasn’t clear enough, the opening line from the article is unambiguous:

Internal Auditor Tina Abdella won’t agree to immediately leave Columbus Public Schools in exchange for a $49,000 financial settlement, she said yesterday.

Though that article wasn’t written by Bill Bush, the reporter had plenty of chances to report on Abdella’s claims of attendance troubles back then, but it never came up once.

Bush did not mention it on July 1, 2005, well after Abdella had refused the confidentiality agreement and when he was reporting on the hiring of a new internal auditor.

Bush did not mention it in his June 27, 2005, article either, despite having a perfect opportunity as he discussed Abdella’s contentious departure:

The school board voted in April to fire its current internal auditor, Tina Abdella , from her $101,000-a-year post when her contract expires Thursday. She has been assigned to home.

Abdella was the second internal auditor to leave on bad terms with the board of education. Mitch Coffman, who became the district’s first auditor in the summer of 2000, left after clashing with the board when his contract expired in 2002.

In a letter last November, Abdella said it is “apparent that there is no opportunity for a continued working relationship between me and the Board of Education.”

Continuing to follow the story backward in time, Bush once again made no mention of any attendance investigation by the internal auditor in the March 31, 2005, article as he reported that Abdella’s firing had been made official.  Bush did discuss the not-secret buyout proposal from the Board at that time:

On March 15 the board voted to offer Abdella a contract buyout worth roughly $49,000 in return for her signing a legally binding agreement to “refrain from any publication, oral or written, of a defamatory, disparaging or otherwise derogatory nature pertaining to the board and/or its related persons.”

But Bush also reminded his readers that the Board had other reasons that may have led to Abdella’s dismissal – a poor performance evaluation:

The board notified Abdella that it would not renew her contract in December, after a critical evaluation accused her of failing to complete 12 of 14 tasks in her annual work plan.

Bush did not mention attendance on March 16, 2005, while reporting extensively on the specific details of the proposed buyout, nor did he say a word about it in his December 22, 2004, article titled SCHOOL BOARD WON’T RENEW CONTRACT OF INTERNAL AUDITOR.

As a matter of fact, Bill Bush’s first two articles about discord between the School Board and the internal auditor paint a very different picture of this situation than the veteran reporter wants us to believe in the article he published today.

November 25, 2004
COLUMBUS SCHOOLS’ AUDITOR MIGHT QUIT – Board members cite disagreements with superintendent, staff

by Bill Bush

Excerpts from Bush’s article:

“She wasn’t getting along with the superintendent and treasurer, and those were two she needed to get along with,” Columbus Board of Education member Terry Boyd said.

Boyd and board member Loretta Heard said that board President Stephanie Hightower recently asked Abdella for her resignation.

“The option to resign was given to Tina , but it has not been approved yet,” Boyd said. “We talked to her. She wants to resign.”

Abdella said earlier this week that she had no comment.

Hightower wouldn’t say whether she asked for Abdella ‘s resignation, repeating only that she had no letter of resignation from Abdella. A job evaluation of Abdella , who is paid a base salary of $95,000 a year, is expected to be completed next week.

December 4, 2004
AUDITOR SAYS SHE INTENDS TO QUIT – Official wants salary, benefits for 6 1/2 months after Jan. 15 resignation

by Bill Bush

Excerpts from Bush’s article:

 Tina Abdella , internal auditor for Columbus Public Schools, wants to resign effective Jan. 15 but continue receiving her $101,000-a-year salary, full benefits and all retirement contributions for 6 1/2 more months.

“It is apparent that there is no opportunity for a continued working relationship between me and the Board of Education,” Abdella wrote board members in a letter dated Nov. 23. [Note: Bush’s article today claims a cancelled meeting on December 3 and the redirection of an investigation to the state department are evidence of a cover-up. Abdella’s announced desire to resign two weeks earlier might explain the district’s choice to ask the state to intervene.]

Abdella ‘s compensation includes $95,000 in base pay and a $6,000 car allowance. She also receives a $3,000 annual expense account.

Her contract expires June 30, but she proposes getting paid through Aug. 31, during which time she would act as a consultant when needed.

There was no attendance investigation being proposed by Abdella.  Instead we have the story of a disgruntled former employee partnering with an opportunistic reporter to continue this summer’s attack on public schools.  Bill Bush was the predominant reporter of this story back in 2004-2005 and never reported a single word about a proposed investigation into attendance records.  He has no excuse for not remembering or researching his past reports on this issue.

And as far as the notion of the school board somehow seeking to buy Abdella’s silence as they fired her that Bill Bush wants us to believe in 2012, we now know that the 2004 edition of Bill Bush clearly pointed out that it was the internal auditor who first sought to end her employment with the schools.

If the current allegations of cheating are so airtight, why would the Dispatch have a reporter writing stories that contradict his very own published articles?