School district continues to examine volunteer-screening process

rlurye@islandpacket.com

February 18, 2014 

ILLUSTRATION

The Beaufort County School District is trying to decide which volunteers need a formal background check, a spokesman said, an examination that started after a volunteer assistant coach allegedly fought with one of her players earlier this month.

The district discovered that Bluffton High School girls basketball assistant Alexandra Murphy had a felony arrest record that was not detected by its normal review process in early January, spokesman Jim Foster said. The district said after the incident that it would no longer rely on internal software and instead conduct background checks through the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division.

But those reviews cost $25 each, and as of Tuesday, the district has counted about 1,300 people who might be considered volunteers and need the background checks, Foster said.

And that total reflected complete numbers from only about half of the district's schools, Foster added.

The district wants to avoid spending thousands of dollars on what could be unnecessary screenings for volunteers who do not regularly work closely with students, Foster said Tuesday.

Unless some of those positions -- such as proctors for standardized testing -- are exempt from SLED screening, the district could run a tab of more than $32,000, according to figures provided by Foster.

Over the next few weeks, the district's human resources, risk management and communications departments will determine which unpaid positions warrant the expense, Foster said.

Assistant coaches and student mentors will almost certainly be included in that group, Foster said.

Other helpers, such as classroom presenters and test proctors, are supervised by paid staff at all times, he said. "Is that someone we would qualify as a volunteer and spend the money for a SLED check on? Possibly not."

Murphy, the former assistant coach, is no longer with the district, according to Foster. She was approved for the unpaid position Jan. 10. Though Murphy had been charged Sept. 13 by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office with felony breach of trust, the district said its initial screening process came back clear.

On Feb. 3, Murphy fought with a Bobcat player, according to a Bluffton Police Department report. Neither person was charged.

Murphy's September fraud charge is pending, according to court records.

Murphy's background check was done using the district's application management system, WinOcular. Under its old procedures, if that system revealed an infraction, the district would then run the same checks it does for potential paid employees -- a SLED background screening and a check of charges from other states using a paid application called First Advantage, Foster said.

From July 2012 to June 2013, the district spent $21,810 conducting background checks, including a $14,535 contract with First Advantage, according to Foster. The previous year, the district spent $19,104 on background checks.

Between July and Tuesday, that figure was about $4,000, as the majority of hiring and background checks occur in spring, Foster said.

The district is shopping for a replacement for the WinOcular software, which is about seven years old and outdated, Foster said. First Advantage might be replaced, as well, he said.

"We are looking at what other districts use and scheduling demos," Foster said. "We're examining the entire process."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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