Sullivan school system to pay for employee background checks

Rick Wagner • Aug 12, 2019 at 9:58 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school system employees won’t be footing the bill for mandatory background checks every five years, thanks to a unanimous vote of the Board of Education.

The board Thursday evening voted 7-0 twice, first to waive the rules to pass something on first reading and then to change the background checks policy. In a nutshell, the change means that employees won’t have to pay for the mandatory background checks required by a 2018 law every five years but that those applying for employment will. The cost is about $35 for each check.

“I don’t think they should have to for for it ... if they are current employees,” BOE Vice Chairman Randall Jones said during the late afternoon work session where the matter was discussed before the voting meeting later in the evening. BOE member Mark Ireson said the cost would pale in comparison to the bad public relations not paying for the checks would generate, not to mention the difficulty in attracting and retaining employees.

And in a move that helps current and future employees, Supervisor of Human Resources Wendell Smith said that five employees, including him, by late August will be ready to provide the background checks. Because some businesses opted out of being background check sites, teachers needing the checks had to go to Elizabethton or Greeneville.


However, Smith said Kingsport City Schools and Johnson City Schools were also getting into the background check business. That means each system must provide access to the general public for background checks two days a week, which Smith said in Sullivan County likely will be Tuesdays and Thursdays much or all of the office hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The testing will be done through a company named Identico that works with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The school system, Smith said, will make about $3 per background check.

The law, which Jones called an unfunded mandate, will cost the system about $23,000 to test 660 employees this school year, will likely cost roughly that amount for the second year and eventually fall to about $9,800 for one-fifth of the employees. All told, the system has about 1,400 employees.

On Friday, former Director Evelyn Rafalowski, who retired from the position now held by David Cox, said that the school system used to do its own background checks. She also said that employees hired before 2003-04 were not required to undergo a background check. That group includes Smith, he said Thursday.

Billy Miller, who oversees bus transportation, pointed out in the work session that about 21 special education school bus drivers, who are employees of the school system, unlike most regular bus drivers who are contractors’ employees, have to pay $75 for a mandatory annual physical each year and $5 for a report on any traffic offenses each year.


As previously reported, voted 7-0 not to amend the 2019-20 school system budget by decreasing the projected loss of proportional school population to the county compared to cities.

— Honored two Sullivan South High School graduates involved in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC. Carolyn Cox received a three-year East Tennessee State University Army ROTC scholarship, while Jacob Smith was sent to an aviation academy in Kansas through a program that served 150 cadets worldwide and during which he earned his pilot’s wings. Smith is attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

— Voted 7-0 to spend up to $1,000 to get an appraisal on the Holston Warehouse/old Holston High School/Holston Institute property next to Tri-Cities Airport upon the recommendation of BOE Attorney Pat Hull. The board is looking at disposing of the property and held an executive session on the matter at the end of the work session.

— Voted 7-0 to approve an annual standard memorandum of understanding for the Sullivan County Regional Health Department and to grant a power line and power pole easement for electricity to a new concessions building and bathrooms at Ketron Elementary School.

— Heard parent Jason Horton question why his children’s bus ride took 20 minutes to an hour longer from a middle school he said was a 10-minute drive from their home.

— Was notified that a brick-laying ceremony at the new Sullivan East Middle School, to open in January, is set for 2 p.m. Aug. 29, with a work session set for 5 p.m. that day in Blountville.

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