A North Philadelphia principal convicted in a cheating scandal that spanned years has lost her bid to get back her state pension.
The Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) said Thursday that it had unanimously rejected the bid by Evelyn Cortez to regain the $7,715 monthly retirement benefit she had collected before her 2016 conviction.
Cortez pleaded guilty that year to charges related to her role in promoting a culture of cheating at Cayuga Elementary in Hunting Park from 2007 to 2014.
The Inquirer first reported cheating at Cayuga in 2012, when staffers came forward to detail a Cortez-led scheme to tamper with tests. Several teachers said they were told to do whatever it took to get good scores on state assessment exams, including directing students to erase answers and giving them the correct ones.
Cortez, educators said, even told students to write answers on scrap paper first, then to check with teachers before putting them into their testing booklets. Teachers were instructed to walk up and down classroom aisles, aiding students on the test.
The cheating came amid enormous pressure from the district to improve student scores on the state’s standardized tests, Cortez and teachers said. In the era of No Child Left Behind, schools with poor scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests could face strict consequences, including closure.
A grand jury found that Cortez had “systematically cheated to increase Cayuga’s test scores by changing student answers, providing test answers to students, and improperly reviewing PSSA questions prior to administering the test.”
Cortez and four other educators were arrested in 2014 in connection with a statewide probe of exam cheating. Cortez retired and began collecting her pension several months after being put on administrative leave during the cheating probe. But she lost it when she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to perjury, tampering with public records, and conspiracy to tamper with public records. State law disqualifies public employees who have pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes related to their employment.
She also was sentenced to 10 years probation.
Cortez, who had paid into the pension system from 1979 until her retirement, appealed the forfeiture. She argued that her guilty plea came after she retired, that her lawyer was incompetent, and that she was innocent of the charges. She also sought a gubernatorial pardon.