More on the custodians in custody

(New information has come to light! See the update below.)

Just last September, Sylvester Jack Lawson was one of 70-some Oakland school district employees who received an Expect Success award, honored for “for exemplifying the highest commitment to the success of our students and our district.”

Today, the 52-year-old Oakland High School custodian, who’s been a district employee for 15 years, stands accused of stealing district property, and even taking a kid’s lost wallet. He was formally charged today, and appears in court tomorrow.

Then there’s Kenneth Wayne Hill, 43, a janitor at Webster Academy in East Oakland. He had a 2005 felony conviction (smuggling drugs into the Santa Rita Jail) and is now locked up without bail on a probation violation and charge of receiving stolen property.

A third custodian, Gregorio Solis (hired in 1992), was charged Wednesday.

According to the school district’s hiring rules (AR 4212, last updated in 2004) and state education law, new non-teaching hires can’t have been convicted of a violent or serious crime, a sex offense or a drug offense.

I don’t know when Hill was hired, or whether the district knew about his record. Hopefully I’ll have those details soon. However, Flint said this afternoon that he was not allowed to release the two men’s hiring dates — a troubling response, since that information is CLEARLY public record.

Hill was hired in February 2005, about six months before his conviction. District spokesman Troy Flint said his arrest record — a document routinely mailed to the employer of a convict — wasn’t on file, and that he didn’t know why.

Flint said the district does a better job of tracking such information now, through a central log. Still, he said that employees hired before 1997, when the background check requirement went into effect, are not fingerprinted.

Is it time for Oakland to change its policy?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sharon

    Speaking of crime in Oakland…

    It’s not just the perpetrators who benefit from the crimes. Even though they’ll deny it, family members and friends usually know what is going on, either specifically or vaguely, and they happily go along with it because they enjoy the generosity of their criminal associates. Other beneficiaries are the otherwise (mostly) law abiding people who purchase the stolen goods, either out of the trunk of a car in the parking lot of Wal-Mart or elsewhere.

    The same goes for all the drug activity in this city. The users (and there are many, many) are 50% responsible for the crime caused by drug dealing. Of course, the oh-so-innocent family and friends of the drug dealers benefit from the profits, too.

    It takes two to tango. It’s too bad that so many people in our community love to do that dance.

  • Nextset

    The district rules are one thing – they give you the absolute prohibitions on hiring. The hiring authority has any number of candidates they can buy with the district money, and good stewardship would not have them hiring damaged goods when there are better candidates standing in line beside the sore thumb.

    Yes you don’t hire parolee murderers and child rapers – that’s easy. But you also don’t hire people you have reason to believe are druggies and organized crime (gangs). There are times when you reject the entire list and go create a new civil service list. And guess what – you don’t hire people with gang tattoos and you don’t hire people related to, living with or associated with people who are likely area gang members. Duhhh.

    Having said that it’s a tragedy when grown men who may be supporting families have to be fired. But being a hiring authority doesn’t give you the license to use your office to dispense indulgences or charity at the expense of the public, the children and the treasury’s safety.

    This is why Ron Dellums’ public attempts to open public service to felons is so significant. The schools are dealing with children (pedophiles are attracted to them, people) and all the data – identity data – that is so sought after by organized crime (that’s the gangs, people) and the equipment and buildings that can be stolen or burned. The schools can’t afford any wavering on security, including that wavering that comes with racial preferences and race-based hiring and retention.

    All involved in education need to fight the tendencies to water down security. The district rules need to be strenghtened to impose duties on staff to report any knowledge of criminal charges or arrests of self or other staff under pain of possible dismissal for failure to do so. It’s too bad you have to make explicit rules about fidelity which should be common decency but nowadays people don’t know how they are supposed to act.