BOE approves funds for employee background checks

Published 4:24 pm Friday, August 17, 2018

As the Carter County School System works to comply with a new state law requiring recurring background checks on employees, members of the Carter County Board of Education voted to take money from the system’s fund balance to cover the first round of checks.

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.

During a recent workshop session for the Board of Education, Assistant Director of Schools Peggy Campbell spoke with members about the background check requirement, the costs of conducting the background checks, and who would pay for the checks. While the bill mandates the recurring background checks be completed, Campbell said the state did not provide funding for the checks or any guidance as to who would pay for them.

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Currently, the Carter County School System requires new hires to pay for the cost of their background checks, which Campbell said is standard practice with other school systems. During a recent legal seminar with other school systems, Campbell said other school systems are going to keep that practice in place for new hires and then the school system will pick up the tab for the recurring checks every five years. Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward confirmed what Campbell told the Board, saying “nine out of 10” school systems are handling the background checks that way.

The cost for a background check is $32.65, according to Campbell. The school system utilizes the UPS Store to complete the fingerprints and background checks as that company has a contract agreement with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to perform the required checks.

During the recent workshop, Board members asked if the school system could save money by utilizing the Carter County Sheriff’s Office to complete the checks. At that time, Campbell and Ward said they would look into the issue.

Campbell reported to the Board on Thursday the matter had been researched and conducting the checks through the Sheriff’s Office would not be an option.

“We checked with the Sheriff’s Office and the things we need and are required to have in these checks they don’t do,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, school systems are still waiting to hear whether or not the “Rap Back Program” will be approved and implemented by the state for the recurring background checks. Under the Rap Back Program, Campbell said once a school system employee completes their initial check their information is maintained and any time that employee is charged with a crime the school system would be notified.

State officials gave local school systems a five-year window to implement the recurring background checks, but Campbell said there is an immediate need to complete a large number of checks in order for the system to be in compliance with the law.

According to Campbell, around 440 employees of the school system have never had a background check and those must be completed as soon as possible.

“They were hired before the year 2000 and were not required to have a background check at that time,” Campbell said. When the state began requiring background checks for school employees no provision was made in the law requiring checks for existing employees, so employees hired prior to 2000 were grandfathered in.

“You mean to tell me that we have employees in our system who have worked with children for 18 years and have never had a background check,” Board Member Craig Davis asked. Campbell confirmed that was the case, citing those employees were never required by law to have a background check.

Campbell told the Board the cost to complete background checks on those employees who have never had one was estimated at $14,366. Both Campbell and Ward recommended that the school system cover the costs of those background checks. Ward told the Board there is no line item in the school system’s budget for the background checks so the money would have to be allocated from the fund balance to cover the cost.

Davis made a motion to take the cost of the employee background checks out of the fund balance to complete the required checks on the employees who have never had one before. Board member Kelly Crain provided the second for the motion, which passed unanimously on a vote by the full Board.