Employment and certification files missing in Wilkinsburg School District

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Teacher certifications, teacher evaluation forms and proof of education, including transcripts or diplomas, are among the documents absent from the human resources files of the Wilkinsburg School District.

Other documents not found in the files are those used in the hiring process, including interview forms, reference checks, resumes and cover letters, some of which are required by federal law to be maintained.

Those findings were among the disclosures in a human resources audit recently conducted in Wilkinsburg by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit at the request of district officials. They come on the heels of an internal audit that last week revealed staff had taken 346 sick days that were not recorded in the past year, amounting to $102,000 in sick pay.

The state school code requires districts to keep an accurate record of all teachers’ valid certificates, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education. But the audit found that “the status of teaching certificate level for many Wilkinsburg School District educators is unknown and not maintained in personnel files,” the audit report said.

Substitute superintendent Donna Micheaux said she did not believe the district would face any sanctions for the missing documents since it was the district that ordered the audit to identify the problem and because it is taking steps to correct any deficiencies.

“Our plan is now to take a really close look at the audit and prioritize what we want to work on first with the goal to start the new year with as many of these issues addressed as possible,” Ms. Micheaux said. “As far as I know, if we make the corrections, we will be OK with PDE.”

She said she believed that personnel files at some point in the district’s history contained all of the necessary documents, but that “the process of keeping them updated” failed at some point.

The audit report, a copy of which was obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was distributed to school officials and board members last week. It said that human resources consultant Ramona Pope is implementing practices that will ensure future compliance with employment law and the state School Code.

District human resources director Andrea Williams has been off on paid leave at various times since January and full-time since March 28. She was promoted from the superintendent’s secretary to human resources director in November 2012, after earning an online master’s certificate in human resources. She was given a three-year contract, with a current salary of $73,000, that runs through November 2015.

Prior to Ms. William’s appointment, the position had gone unfilled since 2009, when Ms. Pope, who had formerly been human resources director, left Wilkinsburg to work in another district.

The audit report was written by Michael Brinkos, AIU assistant executive director for operations and educational services.

“The seriousness of the problems cannot be overstated,” Mr. Brinkos wrote.

The audit cites the most significant issues as the maintenance of employee files and inconsistencies in recruitment practices.

The report noted that the district has a nepotism policy in place but it has been violated in the past. It also said there is no clear path for filling a vacancy and the “recruitment process can be circumvented by the superintendent or board.”

The audit report also indicates that only paper copies of personnel records exist and recommends the creation of an electronic backup file in the event the papers are destroyed.

Other problems in the hiring process include the fact that the application used by the district is outdated and information provided about criminal background checks is incorrect. Criminal background clearances for some employees are missing, the report said.

In addition to concerns about employee hiring and record keeping, the audit report stated the district has no comprehensive employee policy manual and the issue of biggest concern in that area is the lack of policies regarding weapons or conduct and discipline.

The lack of comprehensive policies leaves the district vulnerable to litigation, the report said. “An employer’s defense against litigation will often rely on its practices and personnel files,” it said.

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.

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