In January, the School Ethics Commission (SEC) issued Advisory Opinion A36-17, which generally discussed potential conflicts of interest for a board member who was elected to his local board of education while still enrolled as a student in the district. In March, the SEC issued Advisory Opinion A06-18, applying conflict rules to the matter and clarifying the potential conflicts of 18-year-old students who have been duly elected to their local boards of education while continuing to be enrolled in that same district.
In A06-18, the SEC again determined that a board member who is a student has the same obligations as other board members when it comes to voting on matters involving immediate family members or relatives. However, the student-turned-board-member does not have a conflict simply because he or she is a student in the district. Nevertheless, the student/board member must avoid being involved in discussions of, and votes on, matters which would create a personal and direct benefit to him; must ensure that he does not provide an unwarranted privilege, advantage or employment to himself, a member of his immediate family or others; and must also ensure that he safeguards the sensitive and confidential nature of the information and materials he is entitled to, and will have access to, as a board member.
In the opinion, the board member was eighteen years of age and attended the local high school. He had two siblings attending district schools, and his mother was both employed in the district and a member of the local education association. The student’s father was not a member of the local union, but was employed in the district as an athletic coach and received a stipend in return for his coaching services.
The SEC determined that due to the employment relationships of his parents in the district, the board member was prohibited from participating in personnel matters regarding individuals who are supervised by his parents or supervise his parents, including the superintendent. In addition, the SEC limited him from participating in negotiations with the local teachers’ affiliate or any other bargaining unit that may be linked to the collective negotiations agreement and from participating in executive session discussion regarding those agreements.
However, the SEC found no basis to preclude the board member from discussing and voting on the district budget nor from deliberating and voting on policy formation, payment of bills, hiring of professionals to serve the district, or approval of various contracts.
With regard to factual circumstances specifically anticipated to arise before the board, the SEC determined that the board member would be eligible for senior awards and/or post-graduate scholarships at the high school that would be selected by the high school faculty and/or coaches; could have access to student records; could participate in discussions and votes involving harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) matters; as well as participate in discussions and votes regarding special education settlement agreements.
Finally, the SEC concluded that the board member may participate in employment discussions and/or decisions regarding his current or former teachers, and/or all high school teaching staff, including, but not limited to: discussion and voting on their hiring, renewal/non-renewal of contracts; tenure charges; withholding of increments; transfers; approval of leaves of absence; tuition reimbursements; and participate in the same matters with respect to the teachers his siblings currently have, and/or all teachers who are employed in the schools in the district where his siblings attend.
Boards seeking additional clarification of this advisory opinion should consult with the board attorney or may call the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Services Department for additional information.