The House Education Committee on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill that would require all school employees in New Mexico to get a background check with fingerprinting, but committee members asked the measure’s sponsor to remove language that essentially mandates that teachers snitch on co-workers with criminal convictions.
“You don’t want to require people ratting each other out,” state Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, told Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, whose bill would require all licensed school employees to tell their boss if they know that another colleague has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony charge that isn’t included in the background check on file for that employee.
Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, agreed, telling Adkins that the bill’s language encourages staffers to “tattle-tale on their colleagues.”
Current law does not require background checks for school employees hired before May of 1998 who have worked for the same district since that time. Adkins introduced House Bill 127 to eliminate that loophole and require that all school employees have current background checks in place. The bill sets a July 1, 2017, deadline for districts to have the background checks on file.
The issue of reviewing and confirming background checks for school personnel became a priority for the Martinez administration after the revelation last year that at least three public school officials in the state had been hired despite either faked credentials or criminal charges.
Last week, the Public Education Department released a report showing that dozens of recently hired school employees across New Mexico don’t have complete background checks in their files. And State Auditor Tim Keller also released audits showing that at least 12 school districts in the state had some sort of finding regarding improper background checks.
Public Education Department Policy Director Matt Pahl, who accompanied Adkins to Wednesday’s hearing, told the committee that about 20 percent of all public school workers in the state fall under the pre-1998 waiver, though he did not cite an exact number.
He said background checks will cost each worker $70, and that nothing in the bill precludes districts from picking up that tab.
Adkins said he set a July 1, 2017, deadline date to give school districts and employees time to comply.
The bill next goes to the House Judiciary Committee.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or [email protected].