Audit: Many problems in Marana school district's HR department - Tucson Local Media: Import

Audit: Many problems in Marana school district's HR department

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Posted: Monday, November 28, 2005 12:00 am

November 23, 2005 - Human Resources workers in the Marana Unified School District are performing at incompetent levels, processing paperwork inconsistently and violating federal laws, according an independent audit.

The departmental audit indicates Human Resources employees may be slacking on the job because the school district lacks clear objectives and policies for them to follow.

"There's poor morale in the department mainly because the staff feel that their duties are unclear and, as a result, they're unwilling to accept accountability for performing those duties," said Katherine Tilzer, a consultant with Public Sector Personnel Consultants, which the district hired to conduct the audit.

"The services being provided by the HR department are not at a competent level," she told the school board last week during a readout of the audit.

Tilzer spent six days evaluating Human Resources employees on the job, reviewing hundreds of department records and surveying employees who work with the department. District officials asked Tilzer to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the department, though most of her findings suggest that problems are widespread.

"There's an inconsistency in how things are done," she said. "Functional areas within the department are diluted and they lack employee accountability. The employees are doing a lot of various tasks and responsibilities. Rather than focusing on one area where they can apply their expertise, they're spread real thin."

Superintendent Denny Dearden said he wasn't surprised by the results of the audit, which was scheduled before he became superintendent in July. The findings will help the district in its strategic planning process this year, he said, adding that he isn't pointing fingers at anyone in the department.

"It brings credibility to the district to say, 'You know, we've got to change the way we do business,'" he said. "We owe our students, our staff and community high customer service, accountability and great communication. And any time those break down, we've got to analyze where we're at and move forward."

An EXPLORER story earlier this year raised questions about the department, showing that the district overlooked an aggravated assault conviction, ignored concerns from a former employer and bypassed district procedures when hiring convicted felon Daniel Mena Jr. in 2003.

The 33-year-old Mountain View High School hall monitor was arrested Jan. 13 for fondling and kissing a 17-year-old female student. His arrest prompted the district to announce in February that it would review its hiring practices to see if policies in the department needed revamping.

As part of the audit, Tilzer reviewed the district's handling of I-9 forms, which are required by the federal government for eligibility when hiring a person in the United States. The federal government has placed emphasis on proper completion of the forms since Sept. 11, Tilzer said, though it appears the school district isn't complying with the law.

"The HR staff are not applying their knowledge of state and federal requirements," she said. "They know the laws, but they're not applying them."

Tilzer said she was given a list of district employees to review their I-9 forms. Of the first 123 names on the list, only 18 had the forms on file, none of which were properly completed by the district, she said.

"They're not compliant with federal requirements," she said. "And there are controls missing to ensure timely report filing."

The audit suggests some of the problems stem from poor internal and external communication. The audit claims that HR Director Janice Reyher's job duties are not clearly defined and there are no performance objectives or authority to perform those duties.

Reyher, who became director in 2002, expressed optimism that the department can now take a closer look at the problems identified in the audit.

"I'm thrilled to death that we've got the audit done," she said. "I'm just really happy that we're moving forward and we're going to be able to make excellent progress in this next year."

Reyher said the district is already reviewing the job descriptions and workload of Human Resources employees.

"It's important that the district have HR management and staff that are capable of providing competent services," Tilzer said. "One of the first steps to doing that would be to develop a job description for the HR director that establishes clear objectives, authority to perform her duties, and necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, education and experience."

Human Resources clerks Brenda Fahrmeyer and DeAnn Gibson waited for more than 30 minutes while the school board convened behind closed doors Nov. 17 to discuss the audit. While the two employees were hoping the discussion would be brought back before the public, the board refused that request and quickly adjourned after returning to the dais.

"We would like to see, is it something I could personally improve on, or is it beyond my control?" said Gibson, who said the department fell on "two years of hard times" after she and another personnel clerk were forced into doing payroll work about two years ago.

Gibson said she regrettably assumed duties of a job she had never done before. Fahrmeyer said some clerks had to be trained how to use calculators.

"We in the office said, 'Something's gotta give. This isn't working,'" Fahrmeyer said. "For two years now, we have made that comment that there are some major, major problems."

Fahrmeyer is president of the Marana Education Support Professionals, the association representing the district's support staff in salary negotiations. She and Gibson both said the audit results weren't a shock and they hope the findings help solve the department's problems.

"I'm very positive about the audit," Gibson said. "We do hope for the best - that it's going to benefit this district."

Surveys completed by school administrators and secretaries show a large discrepancy in opinions of how the department is run. Administrators responded favorably while school secretaries, who work closer on a day-to-day basis with Human Resources, were more grim in their answers.

A majority of secretaries said Human Resources employees are not knowledgeable when explaining personnel policies, do not provide appropriate or timely notification of policy updates to employees, and do not appropriately represent the district when interacting with other employees.

Dearden said each department in the district will be reviewed this year while the district goes through its strategic planning process, though it's unlikely other departments will be officially audited.

The district plans to form a focus group to review Tilzer's recommendations, Dearden said, adding that he hopes to put employees in jobs where they can function competently.

"Our goal is to look at the HR department a year from now and say, 'Hey, we're right where we need to be,'" he said.

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