Develop better vetting process

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Leadership determines everything, so clean up the background checks.

WHEN IT COMES to hiring key personnel in leadership posts, the best surprise is no surprise.

The School District of Beloit needs to work on that one.

When the district set out to hire a new superintendent and engaged an outside search firm, the process melted down over insufficient disclosure of one candidate's involvement in litigation. When the district hired an interim superintendent to serve over the next year while a permanent office-holder is recruited, the vetting process fell short of identifying past controversies in the candidate's work history. And when the district hired a new principal for Beloit Memorial High School, the same thing happened - work history issues that were not fully identified and researched prior to the employment decision.

LET'S MAKE THIS CLEAR: We are not making any judgements about the individuals involved. For the most part issues identified occurred years ago and were the sort of things that can happen in the course of an active career. Like everyone else, we want these people to succeed in their jobs for the obvious reason - if they succeed, Beloit succeeds.

Likewise, we hope the district over the coming year is successful in attracting not just a good superintendent, but a transcendently talented superintendent capable of doing the kind of turnaround work these schools require.

That's the best way we can explain why the Beloit Daily News took a deeper dive into the work histories of the school district's candidates for employment. A thorough and exhaustive system to background prospective employees is essential to recruiting and hiring the right people for the jobs.

Fact is, the research by the newspaper could not properly be called "exhaustive." We didn't have to work that hard or dig that deep, which is an even clearer indication the district's process is inadequate.

THERE ARE PLENTY of ways to check out prospective employees. In the digital age, of course, anybody with a computer and access to Google can find out a lot.

But a really thorough examination would go much further, utilizing the tools and vendors capable of deeply accessing information about people on multiple fronts.

In the private sector and certain parts of the public sector, it's not even uncommon for top candidates to go through psychological testing and in some cases a lie detector exam.

Perhaps that would not be necessary for every hire within a school district, though parents justifiably want the district to be cautious about who gets access to their children. For most hires the district's human resources professionals ought to be expected to exercise due diligence - and be held accountable for any failure to do so.

Another level of scrutiny, however, makes sense when it comes to the highest-ranking (and highest-paid) individuals hired by the district - or, for that matter, any office of public trust in government. Maybe such deep vetting could be done with all finalists for a position. Maybe it could be restricted to the person about to be selected, whose employment offer could be made contingent to successfully completing an exhaustive background check.

THE POINT IS, what the district has been doing is not good enough. There should be no surprises. And surprises absolutely should not surface after a leader has been hired.

School board members and administrators should embark on a review of the district's vetting process, with an eye toward defining a much more muscular policy for backgrounding key job candidates.

The threshold requirement should be this: No matter who is authorized to conduct background reviews, the board must insist on being fully informed about all potentially pertinent facts early enough to make an educated determination about what's important and what's not.

In the ongoing effort to transform Beloit's schools, leadership will be indispensable. It's worth the time, trouble and expense to strengthen the process.

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