Audit of Hillsborough schools addresses background checks, scholarships

- From not enough background checks to charter school teachers not getting scholarships for which they're eligible, these were just a few areas where the Florida Auditor General found the Hillsborough County School District could use some improvement.

The school board discussed some of the findings at Tuesday's meeting, however, the school board says many of the issues in the report -- which focuses on the 2016-2017 fiscal year -- have been corrected already.

Still, some board members had questions about what's inside the audit and what still needs to be done.

"Part of the role of the auditor general, as new laws are passed and as we have new procedures based off of those laws, is they will come into districts and help us make those adjustments along the way," said Superintendent Jeff Eakins.

The auditor general's 10 findings included "background screenings." It found 37 out of more than 25,000 instructional and non-instructional personnel had not been re-screened in the mandatory five-year increments.

In January, the district put a new system in place that can be checked quarterly. The 37 have since been rechecked with no issues.

There were also concerns about school volunteer screenings.

While the district was screening volunteers against the FDLE sex offender registry and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office website, a new law requires a check on the national database, which wasn't happening.

Effective July 1, 2017, Hillsborough County schools made that change.

"The statement of about us not checking background checks, not making background checks happen, that was a law change," said board member Cindy Stuart. "We've already made those corrections."

The auditor general found "the district did not always appropriately consider reliable and authentic records of college entrance examination scores and highly effective evaluations based, in part, on student performance when determining the eligibility of charter school teachers for the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship awards."

According to the report, "during the 2016-17  fiscal year, the district received $3.6 million for program scholarship awards for 532 personnel, including 512 district school employees who were awarded $3.49 million and 20 charter school employees who were awarded $136,338."

"Although the district did not request charter schools to submit official records to demonstrate the eligibility of the charter school scholarship recipients, the District received appropriate records to support two charter school scholarship recipients. However, the District did not request or receive official records from the charter schools to demonstrate the eligibility of the other 18 charter school scholarship recipients who received scholarship awards totaling $122,704."

"How many charter school educators have not received their Best and Brightest scholarships?" asked board member Lynn Gray.

Eakins answered, "We want to make sure every teacher, whether they are in a traditional school or charter school, and they are eligible for a best and brightest bonus, we want to make sure they get it. Jenna's department has worked tirelessly to ensure they went through all the teachers that were on the reports in the past year to make sure everyone was paid. They worked collaboratively with the HR Department to do that and anyone that has not been paid, those would have been rectified."

Despite the findings, Superintendent Eakins calls it a clean report.

"All the issues have been rectified, corrected," he said.

The audit was ultimately approved. When a district is audited by the Auditor General's Office, there's no financial impact on the district's budget.

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