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James Wilson, Former Georgia Schools Superintendent, Caught On Tape Bullying State Official Over Cheating Probe

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A former Georgia school superintendent at two districts has been caught on tape bullying and threatening a state education official. The recording was acquired by Atlanta's WSBTV under the state open records act.

James Wilson, formerly the superintendent for the school districts in Cobb and Fulton Counties, tells Kathleen Mathers, then-director of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement, that she'll "pay dearly" for conducting erasure analyses on answer sheets for state standardized tests. Wilson accuses Mathers of using "Gestapo tactics."

Two years ago, Mathers led the investigation into irregular results on the state mandated Criterion Referenced Competency Tests, administered to students in the 3rd through 8th grades. The analyses concluded improbable frequencies of erasures and ratios of right-to-wrong answers on the 2009 statewide exam. Dougherty County had 14 schools flagged in the investigation, second to Atlanta. The report came amid findings from a two-year investigation released last summer that found widespread cheating among educators in at least 44 Atlanta schools.

Investigators at the time implicated 178 Atlanta educators involved in test tampering, including erasing students' incorrect answers on standardized tests and replacing them with correct ones. The findings shook the country and "stunned" U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Neighboring Dougherty County Schools hired Wilson as an education consultant to conduct an independent probe in an attempt to discredit the results of Mathers' investigation. The recording is from when Wilson was interrogating Mathers on behalf of the district.

According to the recording obtained by WSBTV, Wilson told Mathers he thought the erasure analysis her agency conducted was unfair. Mathers asks if he had preferred that the state not conduct the erasure analysis at all.

"You're absolutely right," Wilson says in the recording. "I think you made a huge mistake in doing that ... Kathleen, I think y'all are being perceived as Gestapo tactics.

"You'll pay dearly for it," Wilson continues. "I'd love to help you, but if you really believe in an erasure analysis this strongly, that is the right way to do this.... I have a decision to make based on how we finish this conversation and where I go from here. And remember, I'm the old guy, I have nothing to lose.... I'm not going to give you any threats, but let me tell you, I can get there."

Wilson's hinting at using political clout to discredit Mathers is also feeble, as Gov. Sonny Perdue supported Mathers' probe, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

Gov. Nathan Deal later commissioned a follow-up investigation into Dougherty County Schools -- after Wilson's independent probe didn't find evidence of cheating from the analysis, the AJC reported.

The nearly 300-page report sent to Deal in December found that cheating on standardized tests occurred among teachers in Dougherty County schools over the course of several years, and implicated 49 principals and teachers following the four-month probe.

The report tells stories of teachers who indicated correct answers to students while administering exams and a principal who ordered teachers to change answers. A broader culture that threatened teachers with public humiliation for low test scores and rewarded them with fat bonuses for high ones further incentivized cheating, according to an August report by The Huffington Post.

Several educators refused to cooperate in the case, the investigators wrote in the report, noting that one teacher interviewed during the probe commented that her 5th grade students could not read, but did well on the CRCT.

"The disgraceful situation we found in the Dougherty County School System is a tragedy," the investigators wrote.

The report and results go to the Professional Standards Committee and the Dougherty County district attorney's office for further review and recommendation for action. The PSC is also charged with hearing the cases of and determining sanctions for the implicated Atlanta educators. In the first sanctions imposed in Atlanta's cheating scandal, the commission decided to revoke the teaching licenses of eight teachers and three school administrators. The agency has temporarily halted investigations, however, until the district attorney completes criminal investigations.

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