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State budget cuts have led school districts to scramble to decide how to pay for mandatory criminal background checks for volunteers.
From field trip chaperones and athletic and band boosters to reading mentors, schools rely on volunteers daily.
The Administrative Office of the Courts has covered the $10 cost per background check for nearly 20 years at the state public and private schools, including processing nearly 217,000 criminal record reports statewide in 2011.
However, AOC will no longer pay for the check after its budget has been slashed by the state.
Grant County and Williamstown Independent school districts have decided to solve the sudden financial problem in different ways.
Grant County Schools will pay for the background checks, but they will not require a volunteer obtain one as frequently, said Matt Morgan, assistant superintendent for finance and personnel.
“It used to be every two years,” he said. “Now, it’s going to be every five years.”
During the 2011-12 school year, Grant County requested about 1,400 volunteer background checks, an amount that would have cost the district $14,000.
Morgan said he believes that the biggest group of volunteers are chaperones for field trips and volunteers for elementary schools.
“We’re hoping by decreasing the frequency, we’ll decrease those costs,” he said. “We’re going to take a hit no matter what.”
At Williamstown Independent, the district would have spent $4,500 for the 475 volunteer background checks processed for the 2011-12 school year.
The school board has opted not to pay those fees.
“However, we appreciate and respect the volunteers as stakeholders in our quest to advance academic achievement,” said Superintendent Sally Skinner. “We hope organizations in the district, such as site-based councils or WEBO or the booster organizations, will develop their own procedures in helping either offset or cover the cost of the $10 charge.”
The criminal checks at Williamstown are renewed every school year.
Skinner said she hopes a solution can be found so no parent, family member or community members is turned away from being a vital volunteer.
“I really think the organizations and the individuals will come up with a plan to address it,” she said. “For the fifth grade Washington, D.C. trip, maybe it could be included in the cost of the trip that they fundraise for. I feel like there’s things we can do at a school level that we can make sure that if there is someone who cannot afford that, we can work through it so everyone who wants to volunteer can.”