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Concerns raised over custodial services hiring practices

Several cases of workers who have committed sex and drug offenses while employed by GCA Services, a company seeking the local school system's custodial contract, has caused concerns among some parents and members of the school board.


Published reports on incidents occurring over the past few years in which custodians employed by GCA have committed sex crimes against students, been caught selling drugs, or committed other offenses reveal that many of the offenders slipped through the cracks during background checks.


A janitor employed by GCA at a Williamson County elementary school was charged with hiding in the ceiling and spying on a girl's restroom.


Victor Alvarado, 48, was allegedly found hiding in the ceiling above a girl's restroom at Scales Elementary School. Reports said an investigation revealed that ceiling tiles were misplaced in other girl's restrooms at the school.


Alvarado was charged with observation without consent, and was indicted by the Williamson County grand jury in March. He had apparently passed a background check.


Danny J. Hawkins, who was 20 at the time of the 2011 incident, was indicted by a Putnam County Grand Jury after being accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl. He was employed by GCA at Northeast Elementary School in Cookeville.


Also in 2011, a woman working as a janitor for GCA in Maury County was extradited to Texas after being charged with being a fugitive from justice. Suspected of being in the country illegally, She was charged with a probation violation in connection with a felony drug arrest.


A janitor at Cookeville High School was arrested for selling crack cocaine to an undercover police officer in 2009. Walter Savage was employed by GCA Services as a school custodian at the time.


In 2008, a custodian and church pastor employed by GCA as a custodian at Huntingdon High School in Madison County was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in a closet. Christopher Johnson reportedly had several charges on his record, including theft, vandalism, and an aggravated battery conviction, which was reduced from a rape charge. Johnson.


In a statement to the Review, GCA's Corporate Vice-President of Marketing Neil Guliano defended the company’s hiring practices, saying that when hiring thousands of people per year, bad apples are bound to be found.


"GCA takes its screening and hiring practices seriously as a trusted provider of facility services to over 230 public and private K-12 school systems encompassing over 2,000 schools and over 80 higher-education institutions, as well as the facilities of numerous nuclear, government and defense contractor clients," Guliano said. "We screen and hire upwards of 20,000 candidates a year, using a stringent, multi-step background check process and employment verification procedure conducted in accordance with local and federal law requirements, including the FBI, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Our history of incidents is one of the lowest in the industry, and our response time is immediate. We consistently invest in training and monitoring to ensure the best possible hiring practices."


Fifth District School Board Member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III told the Review that he feels one such incident is too many.


"I feel very uncomfortable even considering such a change given the numerous incidents and the magnitude of the charges. We do not need to take the potential risk of exposing our children to such things. I feel if the other Board Members have knowledge of this, they will be able to come to a logical conclusion," Evins said.


"GCA may have countless success stories, but it only takes one rape, one drug sale. The issue that concerns me also is the inaccurate background checks performed as I understand them to be," he concluded.


Director of Schools Mark Willoughby declined the Review's request for a comment on the matter.


While the issue is not on the school board's agenda for their Thursday night meeting, a workshop has been set for Thursday night at 6 p.m. to discuss the GCA contract.