April 2013: No. 2 APS official absent in indictment

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April 2013: No. 2 APS official absent in indictment

OUR INVESTIGATION

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s team of investigative reporters broke the story about suspicious standardized test scores and possible cheating in Atlanta Public Schools in 2008. Our commitment to bringing you complete coverage continues with today’s report that examines the results of a state investigation against those named in the grand jury indictments.

In the Atlanta Public Schools, she was the “godmother.”

Kathy Augustine’s job, other educators told state investigators in 2011, was simple: Whatever Superintendent Beverly Hall wanted, Augustine made sure it happened.

“Everything,” one official said, “had to be run past her.”

But when the district’s cheating scandal culminated in criminal indictments, Augustine’s name was notably absent, despite her reputation for holding and wielding power as the second in command only to Hall. She was among a dozen former school officials who were accused in a 2011 state investigation but not charged last week.

By receiving not so much as a mention in the 90-page indictment, Augustine has stirred extensive speculation: Did she offer evidence that incriminates Hall or other defendants? Is she still under investigation and subject to future criminal charges? Or did prosecutors decide they couldn’t make a case against her?

Neither Augustine nor a lawyer who has represented her responded to a telephone message Monday. She has made no public statements since a Fulton County grand jury issued the indictment Friday, charging Hall and 34 others with racketeering, theft and other offenses.

Through a spokeswoman, Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard declined to discuss why anyone was or was not indicted.

“He just wants the indictment, which is fairly detailed, to speak for itself,” said Yvette Jones, Howard’s spokeswoman.

The state investigation, which uncovered widespread cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, identified 178 educators who had changed students’ answers or otherwise cheated — five times as many as now face charges.

The indictment contains just one mention of “unindicted co-conspirators.” It also refers to school employees who “admitted to cheating but have not been charged due to their confessions, cooperation and truthful testimony.”

Lawyers involved in the cheating case said prosecutors targeted Hall, a former national superintendent of the year, and may have tried to turn lower-level officials against her.

“Look at it from Paul Howard’s perspective,” said Bill Amideo, a former prosecutor who represented a teacher accused of cheating. “What happens if you convict everybody else but you don’t get a conviction with Hall? You’re going to get destroyed in the press: ‘How did this guy get elected?’

“You might make a deal with No. 2 to get No. 1.”

Augustine followed Hall to Atlanta from the Newark, N.J., school district. She frequently served as Hall’s public surrogate.

The state investigators found that Augustine was immersed in what they described as the school district’s culture of corruption. They accused her of acts similar to those that led to criminal charges against other officials.

The investigators’ report said Augustine failed to act on complaints about cheating, as state law requires, and helped hide a consultant’s report that largely confirmed a damaging statistical analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The investigators said they found “sufficient evidence that both Hall and Augustine did not properly maintain this public document and illegally withheld its release.”

Augustine also was accused of making false statements to investigators and of helping Hall send the state faked test scores.

Augustine denied the allegations. At the time, she said the actions of some educators angered her – but insisted she was not involved.

Of the educators named in the state report, two to three dozen received immunity from criminal charges because, investigators said, they told the truth and assisted the inquiry. State investigators offered no such deals to principals or other administrators.

Still, even some principals who figured prominently in the state inquiry were, like Augustine, nowhere to be found in the indictment.

One was Gwendolyn Rogers, who as principal of Usher/Collier Elementary “directed and orchestrated a schoolwide scheme to erase and change student answer sheets,” the investigators said. Rogers allegedly threatened teachers with disciplinary action if their classes didn’t perform well and ordered them to say which students would pass or fail. “If Johnny does not know how to read,” she was quoted as saying, “he had better know how on test day.”

Rogers denied making that statement. Efforts to reach her Monday were not successful.

Another former principal, Gwendolyn Benton of East Lake Elementary, “interfered with and obstructed” inquiries into cheating, the state investigators wrote. Benton, who did not respond to a telephone message Monday, told teachers that agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation were “putting words in people’s mouths,” the investigators wrote, and she threatened to sue anyone who shared damaging information about her.

The state investigation concluded that Benton and a testing coordinator erased and changed answers on the CRCT and manipulated a state writing test for fifth-graders. The indictment, however, says nothing about those allegations.

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