Schools records in disarray

Proof of background checks lacking for 600 Arundel employees

Maryland

September 21, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

About 600 Anne Arundel County public school employees lack proof of criminal background checks, a personnel records review uncovered, leading schools officials to begin scrambling this week to fingerprint several hundred workers.

A mobile fingerprint unit began visiting county schools Monday, said Florence Bozzella, director of human resources for the school system. The goal is to have the problem corrected by Oct. 31.

"It ranged from teachers to custodians to -- there were a couple of administrators. It was the full gamut," Bozzella said.

The full review of personnel records was done after an audit this summer that said approximately 28 people in a random sample of 112 employees did not have complete and timely criminal background screenings. The screenings have been required by law since 1986.

Although some employees might not have been fingerprinted, others who had been fingerprinted lacked documentation of it in their files.

Of the 600 employees for whom no documentation was in their personnel file, 200 have given the school system proof -- such as a fingerprint card -- that the check was done, Bozzella said.

She attributed the discrepancy to a number of changes in the background check process and recordkeeping over nearly 20 years.

The school system also pays a private contractor to check criminal records of new hires, and that often can be done in a day or two, compared with the several weeks the fingerprint checks can take.

So far, all employees who have been rechecked have been cleared, she said.

"We are aggressively getting after this," Superintendent Eric J. Smith said yesterday. "This is a long-standing issue. ... We set up a process to avoid this kind of situation in the future."

Smith, whose relationship with the school board had been deteriorating, announced his resignation this month, after the audit released in August faulted a number of administrative practices in addition to the background-check problems.

Bozzella said that, before the audit was done, her department began rechecking employees, starting with people hired for the 2003-2004 school year. There was no documentation for 29 employees hired since 2002, she said. This year, employees are required to show their fingerprint cards to principals as they report for work, and school system administrators must verify the information, she said.

School officials told board members about the move to eliminate the problem during a work session Monday night.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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