County BOE discusses employee background check costs

Published 4:43 pm Friday, August 10, 2018

A change to a state law requiring school system employees to undergo recurring background checks was one of the primary focuses of discussion during a workshop session of the Carter County Board of Education on Thursday afternoon.

This Spring, members of the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation requiring all school system employees to undergo a background check every five years. This requirement is in addition to the background check they undergo at the time they are hired. The law went into effect on July 1.

“This is already a law for Headstart, Pre-K, and Carter Cares,” said Assistant Director of Schools Peggy Campbell. “They have been doing this for a couple of years.”

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While the law made it clear that the background checks must be completed and allows time for the school system to come into compliance, there is one part of the law that is not specific, according to Campbell.

“The bill doesn’t say who is going to pay for the background checks,” Campbell said. “We will be doing this check. My question is, who will be paying for that.”

Currently, when a person applies for employment with the school system — whether it is a teacher or a para-professional such as janitors and cafeteria workers — the person applying for the job pays for the background check.

According to Campbell, there are around 700 employees in the school system that would need to have the background checks completed now, with another group of individuals needing to have the checks done after Jan. 1 in order for the school system to be in compliance.

At a price tag of $32.65 per person to complete a background check, Campbell said the cost to get the initial group of nearly 700 completed would run the school system $22,789.70.

The state is currently looking into the possible implementation of what is being called the “Rap Back” program, which would monitor the criminal histories of individuals employed by the school system and alert the system if an employee is arrested on criminal charges.

“If this Rap Back program is ever adopted they state that once they have a background check it is constantly checking that,” Campbell said. “If that happens we don’t have to worry about this.”

Campbell and Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward told the Board they would need guidance from the Board regarding how the school system would like to handle payments for the background checks, whether the system would cover the cost or ask the employees to pick up the tab.

Currently, the fingerprinting and background checks are done through a contract with the UPS Store. Board of Education Chairman Rusty Barnett asked Ward and Campbell if it might be cheaper to work with the Carter County Sheriff’s Office to conduct the checks.

Campbell said based on her understanding the Sheriff’s Office is not able to complete the check required by the state. CCSO Lt. Mike Carlock, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office’s School Resource Officer program, was in attendance at the workshop and said he would speak with CCSO administration to see if it is possible for the department to conduct the checks for the school system. Carlock said he would report back to the Board with an answer.