At the March 5, 2014 Local Governmental Officials Conference, Ohio’s State Auditor David Yost recognized Carolyn Smith, the Internal Auditor of the Columbus City Schools, as a “Taxpayer Hero.”
Auditor Yost said of Smith and the other awardee (Heather Winchell, formerly of the Fairfield County Clerk of Courts Office) “these two heroes took personal risks for the public good … by sticking their necks out they helped shine the light on two huge fraud cases, and I am proud to present them with Taxpayer Hero Awards.”
Carolyn Smith was the key public servant who unveiled the District’s nearly 10 year attendance and data scrubbing scheme, through which the District and its individual schools manipulated data to make them appear as though they were performing better than they were.
The issue came to Smith’s attention when a school social worker, informed Smith that record changing was going on that was resulting in delinquency cases being thrown out of court and students from getting their diplomas. Smith verified the same, and went to Superintendent Gene Harris expressing her alarm about the practice, which started the public scrutiny and subsequent state auditor investigation.
Smith did not stop with notifying Harris of the wrong-doing. She then initiated an audit of the attendance and data systems, finding evidence of wide-spread manipulation of data submitted to the state and federal government. Her work resulted in her office’s December 20, 2012 report to the Board of Education on altered student data, confirming the substance of allegations being reported by the media all summer.
Despite her work exposing the fraud, The mayor’s Education Commission recommended that CCS “be required to provide funding for the (proposed) Office of Independent Auditor by eliminating the office of the current (district) Internal Auditor and authorizing additional funds as may be needed.” The Board of Education then proposed to eliminate Smith’s position through Issue 51, which would have placed the school auditor under the control of five local politicians funded by Issue 50.
When questioned about the elimination of Ms. Smith’s office – which seemed to be the only well-functioning administrative office at CCS -- during the levy campaign, Mayor Michael Coleman insisted he did not know who Carolyn Smith was. Issues 50 and 51 were defeated overwhelmingly by voters at the polls, and Smith continues her function, though without the resources she has been requesting for more comprehensive oversight of the district.
Prior to, and during, the investigation, Smith’s office was scrutinized by the Gene Harris administration, which denied the auditors private workspace behind locked doors, leaving them working in open and no-confidential space for years. She was pressured by Board Chair Carol Perkins to “wrap up” her audit. Despite being in a seemingly hostile environment that did not want her work product, Smith continued. With this award by the State Auditor, Ms. Smith’s recognition as a model public servant is cemented.