MILTON — A 2019 audit of the Santa Rosa County School District found that school officials were not doing enough to screen non-teachers it was allowing to have contact with children.
The district has since taken corrective measures to ensure volunteers and contract workers such as bus drivers and custodians are being properly screened.
Investigators for the Florida Auditor General‘s Office conducted an operational audit between March and September of 2019.
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They discovered 84 prospective volunteers whose names appeared on the Santa Rosa County School Board’s approved list for work at Navarre High School had no paperwork confirming that they had met screening requirements.
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School Board policy requires that volunteers fill out an application and report any criminal history. Background checks are also required.
District officials told the Auditor General investigators that they were using a Florida Department of Law Enforcement database to screen candidates for information pertaining to sexual predators and sexual offenders. Florida Law, however, requires that volunteers working “where children regularly congregate” be vetted for sex crimes through the National Sexual Offender Public Website.
“Records did not demonstrate that the district conducted required searches of the names of prospective volunteers against statutorily required registration information regarding sexual predators and sexual offenders,” the report said.
Auditors also reported that they had discovered 34 prospective volunteers at Navarre High School and seven prospective volunteers at Gulf Breeze High School who did meet all screening requirements, but were not included on the board-approved volunteer list.
This is “contrary to board policies,” the report said.
Another six prospective volunteers whose names were found on a supplemental list compiled by Navarre High School did not appear on the board-approved lists.
District officials failed to comply with requests for the applications, according to the report.
In response to the Auditor General‘s findings, a committee was formed to review and update the district’s volunteer program, according to a letter written to the auditors by Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick.
The district now relies upon the National Sexual Offender Public Website for volunteer background checks and falls back on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database when the NSOPW is not functioning, Wyrosdick stated in the letter.
Volunteer applications are now available for review on the district‘s website, and hard copies continue to be maintained, Wyrosdick said.
Each school also is required to submit a volunteer list to the School Board and, Wyrosdick said, “each page of volunteer names must be verified by the principal as having been screened.”
The district staff has also been retrained on statutes, policies and procedures regarding the volunteer program, the letter said.
State law requires, and district policy dictates, that contract workers not under the direct supervision of district staff undergo a background check every five years. Santa Rosa County‘s 1,544 contract workers workers wear badges that indicate when their last background check was conducted.
“We scanned the list of contractor workers and their respective identification badge expiration dates and found that background screenings for 13 contractor workers (10 bus drivers and 3 custodial workers) had not been performed at least once in the past 5 years,” auditors reported.
The badges examined had been expired, on average, for 16 months, and at least one had been expired for more than two years, the report said.
“Absent effective controls to ensure that required background screenings are performed, there is an increased risk that contractor workers with unsuitable backgrounds may be allowed access to students,“ the report said.
The School District tackled the contracted worker issue by requiring those workers to subscribe to Fieldprint, the company the district relies on for fingerprint services, Wyrosdick said in his letter to the auditors.
Monthly reports are now being submitted to the district‘s contract administrator and upcoming expiring badges are being monitored, Wyrosdick said.
The auditor also found that the School District had awarded $31,909 in teacher scholarships to ineligible recipients. The district, however, disputed the finding. Wyrosdick said in his letter the School District‘s attorney had determined the scholarship money had been legally awarded.
Auditors looked at coaching salary supplements. That issue had been heavily covered when it was publicly reported that supplements were being administered incorrectly and that in some cases coaching supplements were being handed out to people who weren‘t actually coaching.
Wyrosdick wrote in great detail in his rebuttal letter about the actions taken by the district since the discovery of the improperly allocated supplements.
The auditors also expressed concerns about the number of people in the School District who have access to student information.
After the auditors reported that 540 district employees had access to sensitive student information, school officials acted to eliminate that access for 485 employees.
Also in response to an expressed Auditor General concern, Wyrosdick reported that the School District is preparing a “risk assessment plan” to protect its data.
Wyrosdick did not return a Thursday phone call seeking comment on the report.