Springfield board approves plan to fix 'immediate needs' found in HR department audit

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Five weeks after Springfield Public Schools publicly received an internal audit showing a list of "immediate needs" in its human resources department, the district has released a plan for how to fix the issues.

The plan was presented Nov. 16 to the school board by Deputy Superintendent John Mulford, who oversees operations.

There was limited discussion of the specifics at the meeting but they were contained in a six-page report. It showed future plans as well as changes that had already been made or were in progress.

For example, the district noted in the report that it has contracted with Lockton, a third-party consultant, to evaluate the role and responsibilities of the chief human resources officer, who runs the HR department and serves on the superintendent's leadership cabinet.

Mulford said Lockton will analyze the organizational structure of the HR department, in particular the leadership, and make a recommendation.

"That will start kind of mid-December and we'll have the final report," he said.

John Mulford
John Mulford

The district has developed a direction for what to do with the leadership role but it still wants more help with how to reorganize the department to "be more efficient."

The audit conducted by the Springfield-based BKD included overarching, systemic, structural, process and compliance findings that the financial accounting and advising firm described as "immediate needs."

For example, the audit recommended retooling that job, and delegating some of the responsibilities, with an eye toward building more capacity within the rest of the HR team.

The audit noted the current chief HR officer, Penney Rector, has "granular involvement in discipline, terminations, unemployment hearings and background check results."

The district admitted, in an earlier interview with the News-Leader, that it has relied too heavily on Rector, an attorney, because of her legal expertise.

Rector, who came to Springfield with extensive state-level experience, announced plans to retire in December to open a law office specializing in education-related matters.

She originally planned to retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year but agreed to stay another six months to help with the district's leadership transition.

The new superintendent and deputy superintendent started July 1.

The findings of the internal audit were initially provided to the board behind closed doors — a permitted step to obtain district responses — and those responses were included in the final report, which was released publicly.

Mulford said the preview also allowed the district to get started on making changes. He noted the district's plan to responding to audit concerns has not varied.

"It's not a whole lot different than the audit report that was shared with you and the management (or district) responses — so, very similar," he told the board. "The big difference is there's some timelines in there."

The audit found the HR department largely operated independently of the rest of the district, in part because it used a software system that was not compatible with other parts of the district, including payroll.

The report pointed out that a lack of alignment and communication was not efficient and led to a breakdown in HR and payroll process and a less than optimal experience for employees.

Auditors suggested more open and transparent communication and more coordination, especially with the district's information technology and payroll departments.

The audit found the district's Human Resources Information System, or HRIS, used for record-keeping, was outdated and unable to integrate with other district software systems, which resulted in duplicated records and, at times, the need to keep manual or paper files.

"One of the big findings in the audit is we need to look at our enterprise system, or HRIS system, and look at replacing that with something that is more inclusive," Mulford said.

He said the district had started that process by requesting proposals from companies.

"It's about a two-year implementation process and so we'll spend about six months evaluating programs that are out there, making site visits to other schools and then really dissect it," he said. "Once we bring forward a recommendation to the board for approval, then the next part with be data conversion."

He added that to make sure all of the data was converted to the new system, the district will run both systems "side by side for a year to make sure all the kinks are worked out."

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Board President Alina Lehnert thanked Mulford for responding "very quickly" after the audit. "Thank you for following up with the action plan."

Mulford said the district will provide a major post-audit update in one year. There may be smaller updates along the way.

"I will come back about a year from now and let you know how many of those things we have checked off the list," he said.

Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to criley@news-leader.com.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Springfield Public Schools backs plan to fix issues found in HR audit

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