In September 2002, an independent consultant delivered an audit that urged sweeping changes to the human resources department of the Anne Arundel school system. The audit portrayed a staff so disorganized that it had created more than 1,400 different job descriptions.
The auditor recommended that the department adopt uniform procedures, check personnel files at random for completeness and accuracy and track each new hire to ensure proper screening and background checks. The superintendent and school board were urged to adopt a series of formal action plans within three months.
Some of the recommended changes have not been made. Some were enacted only this year -- too late, in the minds of some school board members. And three years later, a different auditor has found some of the same problems.
In a July 13 report to the Anne Arundel school board, internal auditor Walter Federowicz noted 23 deficiencies in various areas of the human resources department. The deficiencies included an absence of formal, written procedures across the department; incomplete employee folders, some missing such crucial documents as proof of a background check; and improper salary supplements offered to senior managers.
School board members publicly chastised Superintendent Eric J. Smith over the July audit, which also prompted acrimonious closed-door meetings. The anger was fueled partly by knowledge that Smith, his top staff members and the school board all knew about the 2002 audit and had had three years to act on the findings.
Smith said he worked hard to address the findings of the 2002 audit, which was already under way when he arrived in Anne Arundel three years ago.
"It was extraordinarily important to me and occupied a significant amount of my time," Smith said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "If you were to go down to the HR department today, you wouldn't find the kind of disarray that you had in 2002."
Smith said his reforms included "a change of leadership" in the department and "a massive reorganization," actions that "have resulted in dramatic improvements."
The 2002 audit noted, among other things, the sorry state of many employment files. Documents were missing, out of order or stored upside down. "A process needs to be in place to review a sample of personnel files on a random basis to ensure the accurate filing of documents," the audit recommended.
The 2005 audit reached a similar conclusion: A sampling of employee files had revealed that many documents were missing, including, in some cases, records indicating that a new hire had been screened for potential criminal activity. In response to that finding, the school system raced to confirm that thousands of employees had clean records before the start of school this week.
In the three years between the audits, the Anne Arundel system carried out many but not all of the recommendations made by the 2002 auditor, an independent consultant called Educational Management Solutions, said Synthia Shilling, an assistant superintendent who oversees human resources.
One of the auditor's recommendations -- that personnel files be randomly checked for accuracy -- is "not completed as yet," Shilling said in an e-mail. The schools also have been unable to meet a recommendation that a regular filing clerk be hired to handle the backlog. The position was requested in the budget but not funded, Shilling said, so the department is still using temporary workers.
The 2002 auditor recommended an applicant tracking system to ensure that prospective employees are screened and files updated properly. That tracking system, called BrassRing, was adopted last February, more than two years after it was recommended, following a year of testing, Shilling said. Another recommendation, to create a checklist for verifying the references of applicants, was also adopted this year, she said.
The 2002 audit found a lack of written procedures to govern the human resources department. Three years later, the internal auditor reached essentially the same conclusion: "Formal written procedures do not exist for many of [the department's] processes."
Despite those criticisms, the department has developed manuals to document various procedures, and forms were reviewed for duplication and redundancy, Shilling said.
Some school board members have accused Smith and his deputies of neglecting the 2002 audit. They note that some reforms seem to have been made only in the past several months, under the looming deadline of the follow-up audit.
"It's kind of like too little, too late," said board member Eugene Peterson.
Smith and his top administrators say they are trying to change long-standing practices in the human resources department, routines that predate the current administration. Part of the problem, they say, is the lack of a detailed school board policy concerning hiring; Smith's staff is working on that now.
"I disagree with the finger-pointing, the casting of blame," Smith said. "I do think that we have a very dedicated staff in HR."