Audit: SPS failed to efficiently check 12% of employees’ criminal backgrounds

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(The Center Square) – An audit of Seattle Public Schools employee and contractor-perpetrated student safety incidents found glaring issues with its employee background check procedures.

According to the audit provided to The Center Square, 12% of hired employees did not have criminal background screening and sexual misconduct release forms properly completed.

More specifically, out of a sample of 52 hired employees, the audit found Seattle Public Schools hired one employee without background check records, three employees more than a month prior to background check clearance, and two without completed sexual misconduct screenings.

Recommendations for the district to address this includes creating and implementing a mandatory hiring checklist for each type of employee to ensure all applicants have completed the necessary requirements before they are hired. This includes completion of background checks and sexual misconduct screenings before an employee starts work.

The audit also found nine out of 52 employees tested did not have records indicating completion of required professional boundary training.

The audit also found that community partner records do not provide consistent information demonstrating that their employees or volunteers working in Seattle District schools completed background checks and misconduct training. This creates a risk that employees who may not be cleared or trained in district policy are working in schools around children.

Volunteers working with students are also not consistently approved or tracked by Seattle Public Schools, indicating that not all volunteers may be properly vetted before working with students. The audit recommends the district to update its policies to establish oversight responsibilities over volunteer presence in schools.

The district told The Center Square in an email that after receiving the Internal Audit Report from Moss Adams in October 2023, multiple departments including Human Resources, Safety and Security, Partnerships (School and Community), Accounting and Procurement and School Operations have been working to collaboratively devise a responsive plan.

The departments are currently engaged in a review of the report’s findings and recommendations, distinguishing between mandatory requirements and best practices.

“This plan is not only a response to identified findings from [the audit] but also an acknowledgment that a finding within a performance audit does not necessarily indicate a significant failure of the organization,” Seattle Public Schools said to The Center Square. “Instead, these findings are intended to identify opportunities for improvement as the organization strives to achieve optimal effectiveness.”

Seattle Public Schools is the largest school district in Washington state with 50,028 students across 107 schools in the 2022-2023 school year. The district’s Human Resources Department has primary responsibility for preventing and responding to student safety issues for most building staff, including teachers. However, according to the audit, the department has been characterized by high levels of organizational change over the past several years, with staffing cuts going into the 2024 school year.

Seattle Public Schools faces a projected deficit of $104 million for the 2024-2025 school year, $129 million for 2025-2026, and $153 million for the 2026-2027 school year.

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