Pennsylvania School District Opts to Continue Reimbursing Volunteers for Background Check Expenses

By Michael Klazema on 4/17/2015

Many school districts in the United States are already requiring their volunteers to pay for their own background checks. Because of this trend, it was that much more surprising when the Catasauqua Area School District in Pennsylvania reviewed the expenses of reimbursing volunteers for background check expenses, and opted not to change the policy.

Currently, Catasauqua schools require interested volunteers to obtain their own background check reports through the Pennsylvania State Police Department and the Department of Public Welfare. If the background check comes back clean, the school district will not only approve a volunteer to work with students, but will also write a check to reimburse that volunteer for what they paid in background check expenses. State background checks in Pennsylvania cost roughly $48 per person, so with more than 50 new volunteers each year, the Catasauqua Area School District ends up paying about $2,500 in annual reimbursements.

That's not a huge expense, but considering how most public school districts in the country are struggling with funding cuts and insufficient budgets, it is still a notable one. Unsurprisingly, the Catasauqua school board took a closer look at the reimbursements at a recent weekend, with the question being about whether or not reimbursing volunteers for background check expenses is a reasonable expense for the district to continue shouldering.

On the one hand, forcing volunteers to pay for their own checks could place hardship upon parents and other community members who just want to get involved at school. $48 isn't a hugely expensive fee to ask volunteers to pay, especially since that fee is being paid to ensure the safety of children at school. However, some poorer families could have difficulty allocating that much for a background check, especially since volunteer posts don't pay anything. As a result, school districts have to worry about scaring away potential volunteers when establishing payment policies for background checks. After all, no school wants to discourage a parent from getting involved with his or her child's education.

On the other hand, the background check clearances that Catasauqua Area School District is asking volunteers to get are fairly standard or universal. Similar clearances are required for many other volunteer positions in the state, and clearances can be reused for different volunteer organizations. With that in mind, the question becomes this: if volunteers are getting Catasauqua Area School District to pay for their background checks, and then using those background check clearances to volunteer elsewhere, is that fair? Should volunteers be asked to pay for their own clearances, since they are using them outside of the school district?

The Catasauqua school board has decided to leave things as they are, for now. No changes will be made to the budget, and the district will continue to reimburse background check expenses for volunteers.


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