The Baltimore school system is evaluating whether to retain hundreds of temporary employees and plans to let many of them go by the end of the week — before schools close for the holiday break.
Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for the school system, said the effort to cut down on temporary employees was spurred several months ago by the city's teachers union, which expressed concerns about temporary employees filling union jobs.
At the same time, school officials vowed to do a better job of checking the credentials of temporary professionals after a worker hired on a temporary basis at Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School was charged last month with sex abuse. The worker posed in a variety of administrative capacities at the Northeast Baltimore school, including as a therapist, according to authorities.
The arrest of Shawn Nowlin, 27, shed light on recurring lapses in the city school system's employee vetting process and exposed murkiness in guidelines for hiring temporary workers. Prosecutors say Nowlin impregnated a 15-year-old Harford County girl he was counseling for behavioral problems.
Edwards said that while the recent evaluation of temporary employees was not done in reaction to Nowlin's arrest, the case did show where the system could improve, particularly in the area of tightening hiring protocols in a school system that gives principals autonomy.
"We're not going to manage to the mistake," Edwards said. "The case provides the opportunity to make sure we're clear on what people are supposed to do. It keeps it from being an abstract issue to something we can rally around and understand why policies are so important."
To comply with union contracts, the district has taken stock of all temporary employees working in schools, observing them individually, Edwards said. Of 390 temporary employees who were working in schools this year, 222 performed roles that overlapped in some way with union-bargained jobs.
The district said the last day for employees who will be released is Friday, but principals will have the opportunity to argue for keeping them. Temporary employees are often cheaper than full-time workers, fill staffing shortfalls or have special skills that are needed at a school.
Edwards said the school system "will make sure the work at the school level is not compromised" as a result.
When asked if the school system would re-vet the temporary employees it keeps, Edwards said the district's focus is to comply with union agreements. She also added: "We are committed to paying much closer attention to roles and qualifications as we move forward."
Salary records show that the system has relied more heavily on temporary employees since city schools CEO Andrés Alonso introduced autonomy in the district in 2008, which allowed principals to formulate their own budgets and hire their own staff.
Between 2008 and 2011, the number of temps on the system's payrolls jumped from 593 to 1,184. During that four-year time frame, the system spent $44 million on salaries for temporary employees, including $487,653 in overtime and $677,000 in stipends.
The district said it currently has 532 "active" temporary employees, including some who do not work in school buildings, and has paid about $4.4 million in temp costs this year.
Nowlin was hired at Hazelwood in September 2011 to oversee "partnership coordination," a position he held until August 2012. He was listed in salary records as "Temporary Professional II." He earned $25,145 as a temporary employee.
School officials said they did not know if he was properly vetted and that credential checks were the responsibility of principals. The principals union said that all employees are vetted through the human capital office in central headquarters.
Then in August 2012, Nowlin signed a contract with the Hazelwood principal as a "life skills education facilitator" and director of student support. In the contract, he identified himself as a licensed social worker and doctor. He earned $17,790 on the contract by November, charging $33 per hour.
Online records with the Board of Professional Counselors & Therapists, Board of Social Work Examiners and Board of Physicians show that he is not licensed in Maryland.
Nowlin was arrested Nov. 26 on charges of second-degree rape, sex abuse of a minor and second-degree assault of the Harford County teenager who lived with him. The teen is not a student at Hazelwood. Prosecutors said the teen's parents turned over legal guardianship because they thought he was a doctor.
Charging documents show that Nowlin identified himself to authorities as a child and family counselor, dean of students and behavioral therapist. Prosecutors said their investigation concluded he was a hall monitor.
According to parents, prosecutors, school officials, community members, school literature and social media, Nowlin represented himself in a variety of capacities at Hazelwood: as a child and family therapist, licensed social worker, guidance counselor, vice principal, dean of student support, director of community affairs and PTA president.
Several parents said that Nowlin told them that he received a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University this past spring, though Hopkins officials said they haven't had a graduate or a student by that name.
A Facebook page under his name indicates that Nowlin attended Howard and Hampton universities. Officials at both schools said they haven't had a student or graduate by that name.
Nowlin and his attorney have declined to comment on the charges and his credentials. Nowlin's attorney said his client maintains his innocence.
Citing personnel policies, the school system would not provide Nowlin's resume, though he was last employed as a contractor. Documents related to contractors, including their credentials, are usually public information.
"What we have to acknowledge is that he defrauded all of us — if the allegations are true," Edwards said.
Edwards said that the system will implement a dual credential-check protocol for all new hires, which would require that principals check qualifications and then submit names to the school system's human resources department for vetting.
Edwards said that while the district will not make sweeping or punitive overhauls as a result of the Nowlin case, it is working to ensure that guidelines strike the right balance, not being obstructive but strong enough to help school leaders make the best judgment.
She did say, however, that the district would stress to principals that "with flexibility comes responsibility."
Jimmy Gittings, president of the city principals union, said the union "will work with central office to ensure that our administrators are very clear about district hiring rules.
"[We] share the district's commitment to ensuring every person working in a school has the qualifications necessary to support the academic and social needs of our children," Gittings said. "It is important that principals maintain the appropriate level of flexibility around hiring, because they are ultimately responsible for student achievement."
The system said it is reviewing its current policies on temporary employees, some of which appear to conflict with Nowlin's tenure.
According to the district's policies, all temporary employees must be cleared by the district's human capital department.
Edwards said that while the central office did approve his employment, the problem occurred when he began taking on roles beyond what he was hired to do, and no one alerted the system.
The policy and guidelines also state that temporary employees can only stay in that status for 90 days, and Nowlin's official title of "Temporary II" included mostly classroom-related positions.
School officials acknowledged that Nowlin was incorrectly classified, though his salary scale was appropriate. Officials also granted the principal's request to allow Nowlin to surpass the 90-day mark — a common practice if principals can make a case for an extension.
Salary records dating to 2008 show that some temporary employees have been in that status for up to four years, an issue the school system acknowledged it hasn't addressed.
"This isn't a Shawn Nowlin issue, this is a temporary professional issue," Edwards said. "We need to have the conversation, and it needs to be more rigorous."