Jimmy Reina didn't realize it would cost him to volunteer with a tutoring program at his daughter's high school.

But Reina quickly discovered the volunteer screening process through the West Contra Costa school district, meant to track those who come in contact with students to keep them safe, includes layers of bureaucracy that took a few weeks, cost $100, and required a lot of patience to overcome.

"It was quite frustrating," Reina said of his experience in the fall, when he got involved with the WriterCoach Connection program at El Cerrito High. "I'm not saying they should short-cut any of the procedures. My kids are students and I want them to be as safe as possible. But streamline the system so that volunteers don't have to be frustrated."

Reina is one of many who have been wondering how to balance what's required by law and needed to keep children safe with what's in place to make the process simple and relatively inexpensive.

"Every step adds a layer of complication that people may or may not want to go through," said Todd Groves, an El Cerrito High parent who helps run the WriterCoach Connection program and who regularly looks for new volunteers. "I'd like to find a way that satisfies the safety concerns and the least onerous way for our generous, wonderful volunteers."

The school district, like others in California, is required by law to run a fingerprint check through the Department of Justice on parents and community members who volunteer at schools. Those who work with children are also required to get a negative tuberculosis test, fill out forms, and get a photo taken for a badge.

Reina said his screening required driving to four or five places, and spending a lot of time and money. Adding to his frustration: He had been fingerprinted before for several jobs but was asked to do it again.

School district workers recognize that frustration and plan to introduce an overhauled screening process next year. Some things can't be circumvented, such as the requirements of fingerprinting and TB testing, neither of which the district can afford to subsidize. But educators are trying to remove obstacles where possible.

"We're very happy that people want to volunteer at the schools," said Marin Trujillo, the district's spokesman. "We recognize it's inconvenient but the safety of the kids is our No. 1 priority. We are revamping some of our volunteer processes to make it easier for people."

The district holds large, centralized events to get volunteers quickly screened. District employees sometimes stay beyond business hours to accommodate volunteers who can't make it during regular hours.

They're also simplifying the required forms, getting the word out about free or low-cost clinics where a TB test can be done, and looking for donations to cover fingerprinting costs, which will rise from $35 to $47 next year.

The school district will also be joining the West Contra Costa Public Education Fund to use a more streamlined database system that will help keep track of volunteers and make sure they get the support they need.

Reina hopes the revamped process will be easier for volunteers who follow in his footsteps.

"It's wonderful. It's very rewarding," he said of his volunteer work. "Of course, you forget all the bad stuff that happened to you when you get to work with the kids."

Shelly Meron covers education in West Contra Costa.