81 school employees lack background checks

Russell Contreras
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Dozens of newly hired employees in school districts and charter schools throughout New Mexico don’t have required background checks, a new review released Thursday has found.

According to the review by the New Mexico Public Education Department, 81 newly hired employees in school districts and charter schools throughout New Mexico don’t have required background checks.

In addition, the review found that background checks weren’t available for 14 administrators statewide.

The review also discovered that one district and four charters failed to submit board-approved background check policies.

Last year, the department ordered a comprehensive review of background check policies for every school district after it became public that Albuquerque Public Schools hired an administrator facing child sex abuse charges in Colorado. The administrator did not go through the required background check. He later resigned.

Mora Independent School District superintendent Charles Trujillo also resigned last year after an investigation found he faked his credentials.

In San Juan County, the New Mexico Virtual Academy, an online charter school based in Farmington, failed to report any information on how many of its current administrative staff have the required background checks.

Two area school districts and two charter schools in the county were missing background checks on new employees who were hired this school year.

The Bloomfield School District was missing background checks on three of its 83 new employees, and the Central Consolidated School District, which hired 105 new staff, was missing one background check.

The virtual academy was also missing a background check on one out of the four new employees hired this school year. Dream Diné Charter School in Shiprock, which hired five new employees this school year, was missing a background check on one of the new hires.

Under the School Personnel Act, every education professional must hold a valid professional license or certificate. Employees also must be fingerprinted and undergo background checks.

Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the review was very thorough and she was pleased that state officials now have the information.

“(But) 99 percent is not good enough,” Skandera said, citing the percentage of the number of employees who have background checks on file. “We’re not going to stop until we have 100 percent.”

Skandera said school districts and charter schools have until March 1 to address the lack of background checks.

If school districts and charter schools don’t, the state will take action against employees’ licensures. School leaders who don’t take action also might see their licensures are risk, officials said.

In December, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote in a letter that he was concerned that 15 percent of employees in the state’s largest school district don’t have background checks on file and wanted the checks conducted as soon as possible.

Balderas wrote in a letter to Albuquerque Public Schools that district officials should work quickly to conduct background checks on 2,270 employees before the district’s May 2016 deadline.

Daily Times education reporter Joshua Kellogg contributed to this story.