The Anne Arundel County school system is sending workers from school to school to collect fingerprints from hundreds of employees whose personnel files lack evidence that they were screened for potential criminal violations.
In a report delivered to the school board Monday night, school administrators said that they had identified 629 employees whose files held no proof of a legally required background check. Superintendent Eric J. Smith has asked to be notified immediately if any of these employees is found to have a criminal record.
The issue of missing background checks is the most urgent among several concerns raised in a July audit of the school system's human resources department. The audit, which also questioned a series of pay raises and pre-employment bonuses to top administrators, has proved the undoing of Smith's superintendency. He announced his resignation this month, citing a breakdown in relations with the school board.
The audit found that 12 percent of personnel files contained no evidence of completed background checks, based on a statistical sampling of folders for nearly 7,000 workers. In response, Smith's human resources staff went through the list of employees and found that roughly one in 12 did not have a background check on file.
"We literally checked every employee file of our permanent employees," said Synthia Shilling, an assistant superintendent who oversees personnel, addressing school board members Monday.
The goal now is to complete background checks on all workers by the end of October.
Florence Bozzella, human resources director, said yesterday that her staff had collected fingerprints or other documentation from more than 200 employees, leaving perhaps 400 unscreened. While results are not in for all of the 200 workers, Bozzella said, she had not found anyone with a criminal record who should have been disqualified from working with children. Since 1986, state law has required school systems to screen prospective employees for such criminal offenses as murder, rape, child abuse and child pornography.
Internal auditor Walter Federowicz randomly selected files for 86 workers hired since October 1986 and found 10 who "had not yet initiated the process to apply for a background check," based on their personnel files.
The more important question, administrators and parents say, is whether the background checks were done.
Shilling said she will not know the answer until every employee has been contacted. But so far, most workers have reported that they did remember being fingerprinted during the hiring process, even if the document never made it into their folders.
"A lot of them end up being clerical errors," said Smith, who has made background checks his top priority in responding to the audit.
"Certainly, we would like to see all of these come in clear" of criminal violations, he said, "and I think that will be the case."
School board members and parent leaders said the general public has not seemed overly concerned about the missing background checks, an issue that arose in the dead of summer -- when many parents were on vacation -- and was included in a report that addresses nearly two dozen problems.
"I'm not sure that everybody really knows about it, to tell you the truth," said Debbie Ritchie, countywide PTA president.