STATE EDUCATION

11 Sex Offenders Eligible to Teach

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

State auditors told legislators yesterday that they had found 11 convicted sex offenders who were certified as teachers and eligible to be hired by Maryland public schools.

None of the 11 was actually working as a teacher. But all remained in a database of teachers with valid certification from the Maryland State Department of Education because of inadequate communication between the state agency and some of the 24 local school systems, the auditors said, speaking to the Joint Audit Committee of the Maryland General Assembly.

A routine audit of the public school system, completed last month, found a similar lapse in the oversight of school bus drivers. In one school system, which the auditors did not name, a driver remained on the job after failing a drug or alcohol test and was subsequently involved in two accidents.

In each case, auditors faulted the state school system for failing to properly update a database, which included lists of certified teachers and of drivers who had tested positive for drugs or alcohol. The audit covered a three-year span ending June 30, 2005.

State school officials told lawmakers that much of the blame should fall on local school systems, which are responsible for hiring and screening employees. Seven of the 11 sex offenders remained on the state teacher database, they said, because local school systems had failed to notify the state of the convictions. The state's bus driver database was incomplete partly because one school system, which auditors did not name, had failed to tell the state that 12 of its drivers had failed drug or alcohol tests.

"The state Department of Education is not their employer," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, referring to teachers and bus drivers.

Grasmick said her agency might have more power over local school systems if there were some way to sanction those that failed to cooperate. She also faulted the education agency's record-keeping, which is not completely computerized. As recently as three years ago, she said, it was "all paper."

She said nothing in the audit -- a lone errant bus driver or 11 sex offenders out of more than 100,000 certified teachers -- rose to the level of a "headline issue." Some lawmakers disagreed.

"If one teacher is a convicted sex offender and commits a sex act in some school, that is a headline issue," said Sen. P.J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Last year, according to police, a convicted murderer in the employ of a small private school in Baltimore raped a 13-year-old student. That case prompted a change in state law to block private schools from hiring teachers convicted of sexual or violent crimes. Public schools were already barred from making such hires. But no policy or procedure prohibits public schools from hiring convicts to their custodial staffs or secretarial ranks, the auditors said.

"You wouldn't want -- I wouldn't want -- a sex offender scrubbing floors," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore).

Auditors also faulted the education department for its handling of a $1.5 million grant to a Baltimore auto repair company.

The grant recipient was supposed to give students from Northwestern High School real-life experience fixing cars. Instead, auditors said, the recipient racked up several questionable expenditures, including $180,000 for equipment and supplies that were already paid for with Baltimore school funds. The recipient submitted $208,000 in invoices in October and November 2002, even though no students had been enrolled in the program since the previous June. The case has been forwarded to state prosecutors.


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