Four years after “unacceptable” deficiencies were found in an audit of the Department of Education’s casual hire processes, a new report shows problems persist.

Some have even gotten worse.

At a Board of Education Audit Committee meeting Tuesday, members discussed a follow-up review of an audit on casual hires originally conducted in November 2012.

Many of the problems pointed out in the previous findings were still problems, including one that was considered “high risk,” DOE Audit Specialist Jennifer Luke said at the meeting.

Nearly 11 percent of casual hires surveyed began work before getting verification clearance at the Office of Human Resources. Schools or offices that allow people to work before getting clearance are not reprimanded, the audit found.

About 17,145 casual hires worked for the DOE from July 2015 to June 2016.

Courtney Teague/Civil Beat

Casual hires include substitutes, janitors, paraprofessional tutors, part-time teachers and high school coaches.

One third of paraprofessionals surveyed did not have documentation to prove their qualifications — up 3 percent from the 2012 report, according to the audit. Auditors noted in the report that they were unable to tell whether some of those paraprofessionals were miscategorized and didn’t require the extra documentation.

Casual hire procedures were applied inconsistently, Luke said. I-9 forms were either missing or not submitted for 22 percent of casual hires, according to the audit, an increase of 6.6 percent from 2012. The number of hires without an application form on file was also slightly up from the 2012 audit at 14 percent.

OHR’s verification process includes reviewing a potential hire’s qualifications and clearing them through a background check, according to the audit. Background checks begin when an individual is fingerprinted, but this doesn’t clear them to begin work.

The background check can take from two days to two months, if a hire has a criminal record that needs to be investigated.

“There’s really a lot of risk to us by not having this corrected.” – Vice Chair Kenneth Uemura

A “lack of oversight, monitoring and accountability of the casual hire and payroll process” could result in the DOE hiring employees with criminal histories, overpaying casual hires, paying made-up employees, violating federal employment laws and more, according to the audit.

The audit also revealed casual hires had been overpaid by 165 hours. Hours on casual hires’ timesheets didn’t match up with what was recorded in the payroll system, according to the audit. The number of overpaid employees has more than doubled since the 2012 report.

“I guess one comment is it’s very troubling to see this come up again. There’s really a lot of risk to us by not having this corrected,” said Vice Chair Kenneth Uemura.

Committee member Brian De Lima pointed out that hires who begin work without being verified are committing fraud, which Barbara Krieg, DOE assistant superintendent of OHR, acknowledged.

Krieg said her office is updating casual hire guidelines, though “we can and should be doing a better job on that.”

At busier times like the beginning of a school year, large groups are hired at once, she said. In the past, OHR has visited schools to fingerprint new hires before the school year, Krieg said.

OHR will offer training and raise awareness among employees that it is unacceptable to let a casual hire work if they haven’t cleared DOE’s background check, Krieg said.

Currently, Krieg said casual hires must go to the district office to be fingerprinted and initiate the verification process, but OHR could look into training schools to fingerprint employees onsite.

“I think we all share the concerns that were identified in the report … But I think we also have to acknowledge the reality that schools are doing what schools feel they need to do to get their staff in and started by when they need them,” Krieg said.

Despite concerns, the committee voted to accept the report instead of deferring to take a closer look at management processes. At the general meeting, all BOE members voted to accept the report.

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