Workender program nixed at Re-1 schools
October 30, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – After ongoing concerns about the adequacy of background checks for community service workers, the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 will no longer use Garfield County Community Corrections’ Workender program.
The district initially decided after a meeting with concerned parents last week to limit use of the service to weekends and after-school hours, Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said.
But further discussions between the district and Workender program director Rodney Hollandsworth about the extent of the program’s background checks led the district to suspend use of the program altogether, she said.
“Our understanding was one thing, and it turned out that wasn’t the case,” Haptonstall said. “If we were going to continue to use it, we needed to be really clear about what was and wasn’t happening with the background checks.”
Hollandsworth clarified Thursday that a standard criminal background check is done before clients are entered into the program. However, a more extensive pre-sentence report, which is typically reserved for persons convicted of felony offenses, is not done for Workender clients, he said.
A pre-sentence report goes into a person’s social history, such as alcohol and substance abuse issues, beyond the criminal background check, Hollandsworth explained.
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“It’s a total assessment of a person’s background, and it’s usually only done for felonies,” he said. “In fact, judges will sometimes waive it in felony cases because it can be expensive.”
The issue arose earlier this month when some Glenwood Springs Elementary School parents complained after observing a crew of seven community corrections clients raking leaves during school hours.
Use of the program, especially during school hours, could put students at risk, they said.
The program utilizes crews of community service workers, typically those convicted of drunken-driving or other alcohol-related offenses, and are considered “very low risk offenders,” Hollandsworth said previously.
Clients typically perform work two days per week for governmental and nonprofit agencies within the 9th Judicial District as a form of community service. However, Re-1 was the only school district in the county using the service, he said.
“I think it has done a lot of great things for the school district over the years, and saved them a lot of money in terms of man hours,” he said.
The program has been in place since 1997 as a sentencing option for people convicted of nonviolent crimes, instead of jail time.
The school district has utilized the program to do maintenance work at schools in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale for about a year and a half, Haptonstall said.
At Wednesday night’s Re-1 school board meeting, board member Myles Rovig said the county did the school district a “disservice” by not requiring the more extensive background checks for workers allowed onto school grounds.
However, at least one other Re-1 school board member said after the meeting that the district will lose out on a valuable labor resource.
“These people are working outside, under supervision,” board member Debbie Bruell said. “I did not feel like it was jeopardizing the safety of our kids. These are community members who are already out in the community, they’re not people in prison.”
Haptonstall said some of the parents who were concerned about using the Workenders said they would be willing to organize work crews to do some of the jobs.
However, parent volunteers need to know that they will be subject to the school district’s policy of finger-printing and background checks for anyone who volunteers more than three times. That requirement is not limited to classroom volunteering, and extends to any volunteer work in the schools, Haptonstall said.