Scarp: Rethinking contract workers at schools - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Scarp: Rethinking contract workers at schools

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Posted: Friday, November 9, 2007 12:24 am | Updated: 6:21 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A second allegation has been levied in 14 months involving criminal behavior against children by contract workers at the same Scottsdale school. Perhaps it is time to re-examine such workers’ presence at public schools.

Read Mark Scarp’s blog, Scarpsdale

This is not a whitewash condemnation of private-sector employees who perform public functions. As a group, private-sector employees working at public schools are likely to pose no more of a threat of harm to children at schools than their public-employee counterparts.

But at least many public workers’ employment files are public records, although teachers’ files are not. The public has no right to see private-sector workers’ files.

The public had no way of knowing whether Roberto Lemus-Retana had any prior history of inappropriate behavior.

Lemus-Retana worked for a private firm as a custodian at Saguaro High School. He is now serving an 80-year prison term after being convicted of sexually assaulting a female Saguaro student in 2006.

Nor did parents and taxpayers have any way to know whether Ricardo Espinoza-Valdez, 28, arrested Tuesday on suspicion of two counts of disorderly conduct in connection with placing a video camera near a girl’s skirt in Saguaro’s courtyard, had any such history. However, an official from his employer, Phoenix-based ExecuTemps, told reporter Mike Sakal in a story in today’s Tribune that he had a clean record.

As I said, teacher performance reviews are legally exempt from public examination. Maybe that ought to be given reconsideration by the Arizona Legislature.

Today all a school district has is a private firm’s showing evidence that its employees have passed background checks and no right of access to a private firm’s employees’ files.

What we’ve learned from the Lemus-Retana case is that background checks, though conducted by law enforcement, can be incomplete. We certainly did not know — and his employers didn’t either — that Lemus-Retana was an illegal immigrant.

In an ordinarily laudable effort to save tax dollars, many government entities turn to private enterprise to perform public functions at a lower cost. Some such arrangements are controversial, such as private prisons. And there should be exceptions such as law enforcement and national defense.

Until officials and the public can have more complete information about those working at public schools, as the interests of children attending those schools are involved, the presence of contract employees working near children ought to be a subject for some rethinking.

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