Vetting process failed to turn up issues for School District of Beloit job candidates

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BELOIT - One key way to find the right new employee - or possibly wind up with the wrong one, if not properly executed - involves conducting a full vetting process for job candidates.

Evidence suggests the School District of Beloit may have fallen short in requiring deep vetting of some recent candidates for administrative positions. The board was not made fully aware of issues in the work histories of two recent hires and one potential hire, a Beloit Daily News investigation has found.

After the issues in candidates' work histories came to light, Board President Pam Charles said she is fairly certain the board and administration will have further discussions about background check policies. Currently, Charles said, she is unaware of any written policy on vetting and the board trusts human resources people to do their jobs. Ultimately, Charles said it will be up to the superintendent to decide if the process needs improving. 

"If there needs to be improvement in our vetting process, it's going to be up to him as the board can only hold him accountable," Charles said.

One hire indicating some holes in the vetting process is that of Interim Superintendent Don Childs. An incident involving Childs occurred when he worked as superintendent in the Beaver Dam Unified School District in 2008-2010. Previous to those dates, Childs had been hired as interim superintendent since July 3, 2006.

According to a Dodge County Circuit Court complaint filed July 28, 2010, Childs and the former human resources director Stephen Vessey neglected the district's management of human resources by failing to complete annual staff evaluations and failing to address staff complaints related to alleged administrator misconduct at the high school. The alleged conduct toward employees at the high school ranged from abusive and harassing conduct by employees to gender discrimination. In December 2008, a teacher also came forward claiming Childs retaliated against her for reporting concerns brought forward about gender discrimination and the high school's work environment. A total of $75,677 was spent on attorney fees on the incidents during from July 13, 2006 to March 15, 2010, according to court records.

The second incident in Childs' work history was reported by Fox6 TV on July 18, 2012 when the mother of an autistic boy sued the Waupun School District where Childs was superintendent. The child had been put in a 5 foot by 7 foot padded space made of plywood for failure to follow instructions, raising an outcry. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction launched a state investigation into the incident and later ordered the district to stop using the space because the practice had violated the state's seclusion and restraint policies. After the incident the child's mother applied to get her son out of the district through open enrollment, but Childs reportedly denied the transfer request because of the financial implications for the district, according to Fox6.

Charles said the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) conducted the vetting for Childs. The district did not have anyone doing its own vetting as the board was hiring for the position. The WASB did not make the board aware of the incidents, although Charles learned about one of the situations after the district offered Childs a contract. When asked if the district should do another layer of vetting before making a decision when using an independent agency for hiring, Charles said it's something the board would discuss in the future when it comes to hiring a superintendent.

However, Charles said the more someone looks into a candidate, the more one can find. At some point, she said, the board must say it's done vetting and is ready to hired someone qualified. But she added she's open to improving the vetting process.

The board also was unaware of an incident in the work history of new Beloit Memorial High School Principal Orlando Ramos, from 2004. When Ramos was working as an assistant principal at a Harlem elementary school in New York City Public Schools 101, he was accused of falsifying a date on a report regarding an eighth grader slapping a teacher. The true date of the incident was earlier than reported and wouldn't have resulted in a suspension, as a superior wasn't notified within the required five days. A spokesperson for the Department of Education recommended Ramos and the teacher be fired, according to a New York Post article published Dec. 16, 2004. The Associated Press reported Ramos denied the allegation but quit before the case was resolved and took a position in California. Prior to his departure he was relegated to a reassignment center for seven months as he awaited his disciplinary hearing.

A spokesperson for New York City schools confirmed there are "no substantiated cases" against Ramos, after he left the district.

In Ramos' resume to the school district he did not list the name of the elementary school or dates worked there. Prior to 2010, he listed four school positions without dates or names of schools or districts.

The Beloit district's human resource department did the vetting process for Ramos, and Charles said she was surprised over the New York issue. The incident was discovered only when a former board member Googled it.

Charles said the issues in the resume were not brought to her attention.

When asked if the human resources staff failed to vet properly, Charles said she can't comment on the resume, as she didn't have it front of her. When it came to the New York situation she would have liked the board to have more information to consider, but it doesn't mean she would have changed her mind about the chosen candidate.

The board also was not aware of the full extent of the details regarding civil lawsuits facing a former interim superintendent candidate, Kevin Brown. On May 17, the Beloit Daily News broke the story that Brown faced two civil lawsuits in Boone County Circuit Court in Missouri, originally filed in August of 2017. He was accused of making inappropriate remarks and allegedly retaliating against an assistant principal in the district related to a previous principal opening. The information was found after a simple Google search.

After the information came to light the board voted to suspend the superintendent search. Although the district's search firm had alerted the board of the lawsuits, the firm relied on assurances from the Columbia district that the allegations against Brown were groundless. The Columbia district was a defendant in the lawsuits.

Charles said the search firm told the board about the Missouri incident and she was disappointed the firm brought Brown forward as a finalist. Charles said the next time an independent search firm is used, she said the board will more clearly communicate its expectations regarding vetting. However, in her opinion, she said the board knew enough about the litigation not to consider him.

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