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Inconsistent New London school record-keeping blamed on high turnover

New London — The group commissioned to perform a human resources audit on the school district found that high turnover rate of school leadership over the past decade likely led to inconsistent record-keeping.

The findings of the audit presented to the school board on Tuesday outlined a variety of deficiencies, most notably a historical failure to maintain in a central location proof that school employees were up to date on various procedures, checks and training.

But the audit, conducted by DeLuca Advisory Services and presented in conjunction with the district’s law firm, Shipman & Goodwin, outlined a host of improvements undertaken by Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie since she started in the district in 2018 and following recommendations of auditors.

The summary of the audit, made available to The Day on Tuesday evening, lauds Ritchie for her efforts and concludes that most of the deficiencies were corrected.

“Superintendent Ritchie has led continuous improvements, taking swift action to ensure the best practices in hiring and compliance with state and district requirements,” the report reads.

The audit, however, shows that as of Nov. 26, about 18 employees were either not in compliance with mandatory reporter training or sexual harassment training. Ritchie said on Tuesday that those employees are on sick leave and would be required to take the training before returning to work in the district.

It is unclear how many were not compliant at the time the initial audit was performed.

Ritchie had requested the audit in the wake of arrests of employees in the district, including two noncertified employees on sexual assault charges.

DeLuca Advisory Services reviewed 438 personnel files of employees hired over the past five years who are still employed in the district. All employee files were reviewed for criminal background checks.

The review found missing files including documentation of completed criminal background checks, drug screenings, certificates of completion of mandated reporter and sexual harassment training and phone calls to references. Documents often were found in the schools where the employee worked and there were no indications that calls to references were not made, the audit said.

DeLuca Advisory blamed missing paperwork in part on the fact that over a 10-year period there have been seven different superintendents and seven different human resources directors in the district. The most recent human resources director, Taryn Bonner, left earlier this year for a job as a labor relations manager in New Haven public schools.

Systems also were not centralized and the district lacked a universal system for tracking the hiring process and maintaining files.

Many of the missing files related to paraprofessionals, or noncertified employees. It is one of the areas of interest for the Office of The Child Advocate, which is performing its own outside investigation of district practices.

Child Advocate Sarah Eagan recently expressed frustration over not receiving the audit and other requested documentation on paraprofessionals. The district, through Shipman & Goodwin, argued that the final audit was not complete.

g.smith@theday.com

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