The man who has been overseeing the Division of Accountability for the Ohio Department of Education announced his resignation less than two weeks after the state agency found itself under suspicion of wrongdoing in the investigation into irregularities in student attendance reporting.
William Zelei, Associate Superintendent of Accountability and Quality Schools, submitted his letter of resignation on August 6, only two days after the State Superintendent stepped down, and only 11 days after the State Auditor revealed that ODE was also under investigation for questionable activities regarding School District Accountability, especially regarding the department’s role in the oversight of district attendance reporting. Zelei has been on the job for less than a year, starting as Associate Superintendent of Accountability on November 21, 2011 after being recruited to the post by ex-State Superintendent Stan Heffner.
Yesterday, The Columbus Dispatch extensively quoted Zelei about ODE’s strong stance on the attendance investigation, while neglecting to mention his imminent departure and his key position at the center of the probe. Zelei admitted to the Dispatch that ODE oversight was not at a level that would have uncovered errors in data submissions by school districts which could have helped make corrections in a timely fashion.
The department is likely to ask the legislature to give it the authority to monitor schools more closely, said Bill Zelei, an associate superintendent at the department who oversees accountability.
“Within the agency, there was not a focus on checking on whether people were providing valid information,” Zelei said in an interview with The Dispatch. “The assumption was, when the superintendent signs off on things, it is valid information. Now that we realize that things were happening that shouldn’t have been happening, I think it’s going to cause us to start looking at life a little bit differently.”
These comments are a far cry from the statements we have been subject to over the past two months from ODE that have deflected any departmental responsibility back on to local school districts. Essentially, if districts were submitting data that did not square with ODE’s interpretation of the intent of the law or published guidelines, no one at ODE was paying attention, including Zelei and the Division of Accountability:
“We didn’t spend much time actually looking to see whether a school district was trying to scam the system somehow,” Zelei said.
We disagree with his outright characterization of the school districts’ work as a “scam” because it seems as though neither Zelei nor anyone else at ODE know whether any data submitted was accurate or erroneous. That lack of factual knowledge also disqualifies Zelei and ODE from claiming to be in any position to evaluate a district’s intent upon submitting student data. It would seem to us that knowing information about the data submitted (they didn’t) is a prerequisite to being able to render judgement on a district.
Alas, it appears as though Zelei will avoid any personal accountability for his role in the Auditor’s investigation as he has opted to vacate his position in a brazen effort to remove himself from the spotlight of this statewide scandal.