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Former Columbus Data Chief Pleads No Contest in Cheating Probe

The former chief information officer of the Columbus City Schools in Ohio pleaded no contest to the charge of attempted tampering with government records in connection with a "data-scrubbing" scandal in the district.

Stephen B. Tankovich was the first to be criminally charged in the attendance-rigging scandal, where administrators allegedly withdrew students who had been absent without an excuse for 10 days from the attendance records and then re-enrolled them, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

Withdrawing the students meant that they were not counted as having been enrolled for a full year. As a result, their attendance records and test scores were not counted in the district's performance records.

As part of the plea deal entered this week, Tankovich agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify in grand jury hearings involving others implicated in the probe, according to the paper.

About 60 educators, including former Superintendent Gene Harris and 32 active principals and assistant principals, were sent subpoenas in June for records in connection to their alleged roles in the data-rigging scandal, the Columbus Dispatch reports.   

Three others who have been implicated are likely to make pleas  within the next month, the paper said.

Prosecutors have said that Tankovich was the mastermind behind the plan.  Prosecutors accuse Tankovich of creating a system that allowed administrators and data workers to change student records. That inaccurate information was then submitted to the Ohio Department of Education, the Dispatch notes.

Tankovich's attorney, Mark C. Collins, said that Harris, who retired last year, knew about the plan, the Dispatch reports.

Collins said that Harris was "aware of the issues and the conflicts" around altering student data and that Tankovich had discussed the plan in meetings with Harris.

Harris has denied any knowledge of the data changes.

The charge, a fourth degree felony, carries a maximum 18-month prison sentence and a $5,000 fine, but Tankovich will most likely receive probation, the paper says. 

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