A D.C.-based consulting firm has been hired to investigate allegations of fraud and grade-fixing in Prince George's County Public Schools.
According to a press release from the Maryland State Department of Education, "Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services will begin work on the audit immediately and deliver a final report by October 31."
FOX 5 was first to report on claims by Prince George's County Public Schools staff that intense pressure from administrators to boost the graduation rate has caused students to be pushed through the system whether they earned their diploma or not. Several Prince George's County school board members wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan citing "widespread systemic corruption" and claiming that student credits and grades are being altered to fraudulently boost the high school graduation rate.
The allegations prompted Gov. Hogan to call for a "complete, thorough, and exhaustive investigation" in his own letter to the Maryland State Board of Education president.
Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell continues to deny the allegations.
Dr. Maxwell and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker spoke at a press conference unrelated to the investigation Tuesday morning.
"We have said all along there is no effort by my administration or myself to tell people to cheat or do things wrong," Maxwell said. "Do we have some people that have not dotted I's and crossed T's, or not followed all the directions they were given? Undoubtedly in an organization with over 20,000 employees. But that does not make it a systemic issue."
When asked what he believes the investigation will find, he reiterated that it would find "some people who didn't dot I's and cross T's, didn't follow some of the rules," but not a systemic effort to falsify the graduation rate.
Baker also alluded that some wrongdoing could be found.
"Where there are charges, where there are things that have gone wrong, those people will be dealt with," Baker said. "I think you have seen that over the last year - the number of people that have been on administrative leave. Because when we get an allegation, we take it serious."
Also at the press conference, Maxwell said that Prince George's County Public Schools will be dialing back on a program that allows students to do a packet of make-up work if they are falling behind in a class. Teachers told FOX 5 that in some cases, failing students have been able to pass simply by completing several worksheets.
It is still unclear how staff members who want to get in touch with the investigators can go about doing so. A spokesperson for the Maryland State Department of Education said his office has been getting tips from people and the information will be turned over to investigators.
According to the press release:
"Alvarez & Marsal has extensive experience in audit and advisory services in the public sector arena, including performing K-12 organization audits and identifying fraud and data manipulation in educational environments.
"The Maryland State Board of Education retains oversight over local school system adherence to graduation requirements. Board members are confident that through the audit process the Board can determine if any of the identified issues occurred in Prince George's County schools, and will make a final determination based on the audit report."