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Saratoga Springs School District Responds To Arrest, Audit

Saratoga County Sheriff's Office

The Saratoga Springs City School District made headlines twice this week. The district has responded to the arrest of its school board president and a critical audit from the state comptroller’s office.

On Wednesday, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo’s office announced that Chip Locke, president of the Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education, had been arrested — accused of stealing nearly $10,000 from the Greenfield Elementary School Home/School Association.

Members of the HSA reported a theft on Monday. The Sheriff’s Office says after an investigation it was revealed Locke had stolen the money from the HSA over the last year.

Locke was arraigned in Wilton Town Court and released on his own recognizance. He’s due back in court on October 6th.

Locke was serving his fifth year on the school board and was elected president in January and again in July. He resigned Tuesday.

Superintendent Michael Piccirillo said in a short statement, “Mr. Locke was an asset to the Board and his leadership will be missed.”

Board vice president Joanne Kiernan said she wants “to assure the community that the Board will continue to focus on its core mission to provide an excellent educational experience for all our children.”

The board will select a new president at its scheduled meeting October 13th.

The district was already dealing this week with news that it was found at fault for improperly changing student grades according to an audit by the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Brian Butry, a spokesman for the office, said Saratoga Springs was one of several districts of similar size audited.

“So we did a few in the Western New York area, Finger Lakes area, downstate, and here in the Capital District. And what we found in all of these instances was student grades being changed, whether that be from failing to passing, or increasing a grade without proper documentation or supporting information,” said Butry.

Butry said the changes were made by staff members other than the teacher, which he says is not an uncommon practice, but they should have been properly documented as to why.

Of 450 grade changes audited statewide, 90 were performed by non-teachers, including guidance counselors. 196 changes, about 44 percent, were not supported with written documentation.

“And I think this audit shows that it’s an issue across the state, and is something that school districts, we hope, take from this audit and will examine the policies and procedures they have in placeto make sure that this isn’t happening and any shortcomings they have in student grade changes are addressed,” said Butry.

In response to the audit, Saratoga superintendent Piccirillo said the district, with about 6,300 students, sees the comptroller’s recommendations “as an opportunity to update longstanding practices” and says the staff takes the grading process very seriously.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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