Miami Schools Faced With Licensing Scam
Hundreds of teachers may have used phony credits, officials say.
The superintendent of the Miami-Dade County schools is vowing to fire more than 750 teachers if they knowingly participated in an alleged scheme to present phony credits for recertification and license endorsements.
And Rudolph F. Crew is moving forward with plans to replace any dismissed teachers with New Orleans teachers who are jobless following Hurricane Katrina.
The licensing scam was allegedly run by a retired high school teacher, William L. McGoggle, who was indicted in July by a Miami-Dade County grand jury on charges of fraud and grand theft. He has pleaded not guilty.
Law enforcement officials say that Mr. McGoggle, dating back to at least 1997, set up companies to conduct courses for teachers seeking renewal of their teaching licenses or add-on endorsements to teach particular subjects. He allegedly then arranged for them to receive credit for their work from five colleges and universities in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
But teachers didn’t attend classes and received credit for work they either never completed or for courses that were never approved by the institution giving them the credit, according to the July 18 grand jury report, which discussed Mr. McGoggle’s relationship with Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, Okla., from 2002 to 2003.
The grand jury report said 106 teachers and other district employees enrolled in classes offered by Mr. McGoggle’s company, called Move On Toward Education and Training, or MOTET. The grand jury maintains that Mr. McGoggle pocketed $250,000 from his venture.
Since the report was issued and Mr. McGoggle was arrested, another college has come forward to report that it had issued bogus credit to Miami-Dade County teachers.
The board of trustees of Otterbein College, in Westerville, Ohio, this month revoked credits issued to 657 people enrolled in MOTET courses, most of them apparently employed by the 355,000-student Florida district. The trustees’ investigation revealed that the college never signed a contract with Mr. McGoggle to operate the program. The Otterbein administrator who ran the program died of a heart attack last spring, days after the college’s relationship with MOTET became known.
William Campion, who resigned as the president of Eastern Oklahoma State in 2004, had arranged with MOTET to give academic credit without the knowledge of that college’s board of regents, said Hank Mooney, a college spokesman.
The college has refunded money paid by more than 100 teachers who signed up to take the MOTET classes, Mr. Mooney said.
The Miami-Dade County district’s police detectives are interviewing the teachers identified by the state attorney’s office who took classes from Mr. McGoggle. The district also is trying to match the list of teachers who received credit from Otterbein College with its employee records.
Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade County state attorney’s office, said the teachers would not face criminal charges because recertification is an administrative issue. “It’s a large, ongoing investigation,” he said.
“We’re not sure if this scheme transformed over time from a semi-valid distance-learning program into a fraud scheme,” said Joseph Garcia, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade school system.
Mr. Crew, the superintendent, has called on the Florida Department of Education to conduct a joint investigation with the district.
In Florida, the state education department processes all endorsements that allow teachers to lead certain classes, such as drivers’ education. License renewals for teachers are processed mostly at the district level, but the state also accepts them.
Pam L. Stewart, the state’s deputy chancellor for K-12 educator quality, said there was little on paper to indicate that any of the Miami-Dade County teachers’ credits were questionable. She added that it was not clear how the department could change its processes to expose potential fraud.
The department investigates and takes action against employees who violate the state code of ethics, Ms. Stewart said, but what might be grounds to dismiss a teacher may not merit revoking the teacher’s license.
“We’re relying on human nature—someone to come forward and say, ‘This isn’t right,’ ” she said.
The grand jury report also criticized the school district’s review of teachers’ credentials, saying: “The teachers simply paid money and later received a transcript.”
The district since has established a new office to shore up its examination of teachers’ transcripts, Mr. Garcia said. Officials also will review the credentials of each of its 20,000 teachers when their licenses are up for renewal; about 4,100 teachers’ licenses and credentials will be reviewed annually.
“We’re doing what we can to tighten the loopholes in Miami,” Mr. Garcia said. “But this problem existed in Tallahassee, Oklahoma, and Ohio.”
Mr. Crew has sent letters to three more colleges and universities seeking their cooperation with the investigation into Mr. McGoggle’s business. One university has been closed since 1998.
Meanwhile, the district has contacted the U.S. Department of Education to join the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Garcia said the district is reaching out to real estate officials to provide housing for teachers seeking jobs with the Miami-Dade schools.
Vol. 25, Issue 04, Pages 3,16