State audit noted city school system failed to verify basic information of employees

Baltimore city school officials acknowledged this week that lax employee verification protocols may have contributed to a temporary employee -- who was recently arrested on charges he impregnated a 15-year-old girl in Harford County -- taking on a number of leadership roles at Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School.

In the story today, officials said that Shawn Nowlin was hired as a temporary professional to do outreach work, but posed as, among other things, a child and family therapist for the school system. Referred to as "Doc," Nowlin acted in the capacity of a therapist to several students, whose parents were referred to him by the school's administration.

The Sun found he had said he held a number of titles: child and family therapist, licensed social worker, guidance counselor, vice principal, dean of students, dean of student support, and director of community affairs. According to Harford prosecutors and city school officials, he was none of the above. The Sun also found that he had not obtained a doctorate from Johns Hopkins, as several parents said he had told them.

City school officials said that the protocols for checking employee credentials -- particularly those of the more than 1,100 temporary employees -- are murky. And they couldn't confirm what exactly Nowlin did in the school, even though he had worked as a temp there since September 2011 and stayed on as a contractor this past August.

Nowlin and his attorney declined to comment on the charges and his credentials when contacted this week.

A recent state audit of the city school system's fiscal oversight sparked outrage throughout the city for its documentation of several lapses of financial management -- such as several instances of questionable overtime and salary payments -- but auditors also noted that the system fell short on verifying basic, and crucial, information for its employees.

The audit, released in October, found that the system failed to verify employees' Social Security numbers and other data.

Auditors found that in 2009 and 2010, the system "did not perform any follow-up to determine the accuracy of identification for 137 employees whose names/and or social security numbers didn't match federal Social Security records."

The system was supposed to send follow-up letters to the employees with conflicting information and didn't in many cases, auditors found.

They found that 28 employees -- primarily teachers and school staff -- who had been on the list for conflicting information for at least five years still had incompatible information in 2010. That year, those 28 employees earned a combined compensation of $1.7 million, auditors said.

And in a preliminary version of the audit obtained and published by The Baltimore Sun in advance of the state's final report, auditors found that certain employees with incorrect Social Security numbers "potentially had delinquent child support accounts, totaling $28,000 as of December 2010."

Alonso said in a widely distributed "e-blast" that the audit findings were mostly outdated -- the audit primarily covered fiscal year 2010 -- and that many of the problems had been fixed.

In its response to auditors, the school system wrote that it had initiated a process to revise its protocols to follow-up on mismatches between its records and the federal government's. 

They expected to reach full compliance in April 2012.

While system officials said this week that they are more vigilant with credential checks of permanent, full-time employees, the Nowlin case is the third high-profile instance of credential misrepresentation in the system under city schools CEO Andres Alonso. The other two were high-ranking officials who falsely reported their higher education degrees, including one who made up the colleges and transcripts.




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