PHOENIX -- As the new school year kicks off, thousands of new-hires haven't had their criminal background checks.
The Department of Public Safety is working through its annual backlog as new teachers rush to get their clearances. DPS says up to 3,000 are waiting for the OK to head to the classroom.
The agency is responsible for processing the fingerprint clearance cards not only for teachers, but also for real-estate agents, nurses, sex-offender registrations, and even prisoners.
While there is an annual slowdown at back-to-school time, this year has been particularly bad thanks to a perfect storm of the summer, late applicants and a recovering economy.
"The good news is the economy has gotten better. More districts are hiring more teachers, but DPS was hit by the economic slowdown so we have ramped up to deal with that," explained DPS spokesman Bart Graves.
According to Graves, DPS processed 3,000 fingerprint clearance cards a week consistently for the last few years, but that jumped to 5,000 a week in March. And just a few weeks ago, 6,400 fingerprint cards were submitted.
Teachers are being moved to the front of the line, but Graves assures safety is still the biggest priority.
"We are going to be thorough and we're going to take our time because if we're not thorough and we just move through this process very quickly, then you face the possibility of a sex offender being hired by a school district," Graves said.
The fingerprint technicians are working 24 hours a day and more staff has been hired to help, along with temporary workers.
DPS says it takes between six to eight weeks to process the background check and wants to remind people to leave ample time before their start date.