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St. Louis, Missouri Public School Principal Faked Attendance Records, Audit Shows

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The principal of a St. Louis, Mo. school inflated attendance records for three years to meet federal requirements and attain more funding, a state audit has revealed.

Principal Esperansa Veal, on paid administrative leave since May through ongoing investigations, falsified Patrick Henry Downtown Academy attendance numbers through the school secretary since Veal took post at the school in July 2007, according to the report by state auditor Thomas Schweich.

Absences were often changed to tardies, and out-of-school suspensions weren't recorded as absences until this year, STLToday.com reports. But the audit notes that there's no way to determine the full extent of falsified attendance figures. From STLToday:

Teachers reported that some manual attendance records were missing. One teacher's door had been "kicked in," and his records were gone, the audit said. Another teacher reported her desk had been ransacked and files were missing.

"What surprised me is that we weren't aware of it," Superintendent Kelvin Adams told the St. Louis Beacon. An investigation of the school was launched in the spring in response to a "substantial, credible" tip. There is no indication that falsified attendance records is an issue at any other St. Louis school.

By last year, the 270-student school had risen to the top of the list for high attendance among St. Louis elementary schools -- with a reported attendance rate of 97.3 percent. That attendance figure increased more than 12 percent in the time that Veal was at the school between 2007 and 2010, KMOV reports.

The inflated records could have helped the school meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind act, and could have earned the school more funding -- but there's no way to be sure with a weak computer program and missing files. The district can receive about $20 per student per day in state funding, according to figures by the Federal Education Budget Project.

Many states have similar funding structures tied to attendance. In 2009, Idaho issued a follow-up report for policy recommendations to a previous survey revealing that although attendance was generally reported correctly, the design of its funding formula may have created "inequitable results in funding for smaller districts and charters," as well as difficulty determining how to report half-day and part-time attendance, distance-learning students and students attending several schools.

In Atlanta, the school district is facing the possibility of having to return $967,022 in federal funds granted for falsely high test scores achieved by dishonest testing procedures and testing irregularities facilitated by educators.

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