By Maggie Lee

Atlanta’s official school cheating scandal entered another chapter as Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the appointment of a special investigator to scrutinize charges Atlanta officials corrected students’ answers on key tests.

The investigator will take a new look at schools in the city of Atlanta and in Dougherty County, the two systems, Perdue said, where previous investigations were woefully inadequate.

“What has happened here has stunted the education growth of thousands of children by adults who cheated,” the governor told the state Board of Education during its regular meeting Aug. 18.

A February state audit suggested test results at 58 Atlanta elementary and middle schools – none in Buckhead – showed suspicious erasures and corrections that boosted scores on the standard Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

When the state in February ordered Atlanta schools to do a more detailed investigation, the study was largely farmed out to audit firm KPMG. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement confirmed some sloppiness in the report, an official saying that employees of six Atlanta schools declined to cooperate and the firm visited only 32 of the 58 schools.

The school system issued a statement promising to cooperate with the new investigator.

“APS welcomes the governor’s call for a special investigator to look into this matter, and the district will fully cooperate with all aspects of that investigation,” the statement said.

Perdue said the new investigator will be given the power to issue subpoenas. The investigator will be able to refer criminal cases to law enforcement for action, the governor said.

Perdue may name the investigator as early as today, but said he taking the time to secure someone with no hint of conflict of interest or ethics issues.

KPMG has declined to give the Atlanta school board the whole study, sending just a report and recommendations. Hearing that from Perdue, Fulton’s state Board of Education member Charles Bostic called the firm and secured a promise the full report would be released to the board.

Hours before Perdue’s announcement, critics of the private study, led by the Fulton County Taxpayers’ Foundation and state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) gathered at the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to demand better.

Bostic heartily applauded the new investigation, but cautioned that what he called a “dysfunctional” city board of education was part of the problem.