November 17, 2015

Auditor warns of consequences of schools not doing background checks

Official photo of State Auditor Tim Keller

Official photo of State Auditor Tim Keller

State Auditor Tim Keller is warning school districts of the possible consequences of not conducting background checks or following state-mandated licensure rules for school personnel.

Official photo of State Auditor Tim Keller

Official photo of State Auditor Tim Keller

In a risk advisory issued to school districts Tuesday, Keller’s office writes that the “most obvious” consequence is “the potential danger to students and fellow school personnel.”

The risk advisory also warns that without proper licensing, the risk of embezzlement or misuse of public funds is increased and that a lack of qualifications can lead to incompetence. Not following the rules could also open up the district to litigation for negligent hiring or supervision.

The advisory follows scandals throughout the state involving licensing for those working in schools. Perhaps the most shocking was in Albuquerque Public Schools, where a deputy superintendent facing a trial for sexual assault of a child was hired without a background check or even applying for a license to work at a school district. In the Mora Independent School District the former superintendent faked credentials for his license and was only discovered following an investigation by the Las Vegas Optic.

Last week, Keller’s office also released a report finding that an Española principal misused $12,000 from a school candy fundraiser. That principal had previously been convicted of felony tax fraud. The Española case did not result in the loss of a license, but the Auditor said it showed the district should be careful in hiring her.

“Our state has seen problems with background checks and licenses in school districts in Albuquerque, Mora and Espanola,” Keller said in a statement. “Schools need to come into compliance to ensure the safety of children and educators, as well as to safeguard public funds.”

Another risk failure to follow these rules imposes, according to the advisory? Incompetence.

Keller also notes that people with criminal records of fraud or embezzlement, such as the Española principal, are more likely to commit fraud again.

The Albuquerque Federation of Teachers issued a statement praising Keller’s risk advisory and calling on state Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera to “to fully comply” and “ensure the safety of our students and schools becomes her top priority.”

We, as educational professionals, will not condone any shortcuts in this important vetting process, whether at the district level, or by the New Mexico Public Education Department,” AFT President Stephanie Ly said. 

Read the advisory report below:

Risk Advisory – School Personnel Act.pdf by New Mexico Political Report