Recently, the School Ethics Commission (SEC) provided guidance to board members and school administrators regarding participation in employee interviews and negotiations.

In Advisory Opinion A04-12, made public at the commission’s May 26, 2015 meeting, the commission advised that a board member’s participation on an interview committee, which was established to interview candidates for high-level administrative and supervisory positions, would not violate the School Ethics Act. The commission provided the following caveats for committee interview participation: the committee should not have more than one or two board members; the committee should be coordinated by a member of the administrative staff; board member participation should be strictly limited to offering observations and assessments; and the final recommendations are wholly within the purview of the superintendent.

The commission reasoned that participation on such an interview committee was fairly considered “board action” and would be within a board member’s policy making, planning and appraisal duties, as provided by N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1 (c) and (d).

In reaching this decision, the commission retracted opinion A01-15 from its public advisory list. The opinion was reported upon in the May 5, 2015 edition of School Board Notes. The commission found A04-12 to provide a better explanation of its position on employee interviews and was of a more general application for school districts.

Negotiations Participation The commission recently provided clarification as to the extent of negotiations prohibition when a board member has a family member who works in another school district and is covered by a union agreement. In A03-15, reported on in the April 28, 2015 edition of School Board Notes, the commission advised that a board member, whose sister-in-law was an NJEA member in another school district, could not participate in the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement with the local education association. The board member was advised to recuse himself from any matters touching upon the negotiations between the board of education and the local education association. A03-15 did not specifically address the issue of voting on the collective bargaining agreement. The commission revised the A03-15 summary on the chronological list of public advisory opinions on the School Ethics Commission Decisions webpage to include a prohibition on voting on the collective bargaining agreement. The summary now states:

A Board member would violate N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(b) if he were to participate in the Collective Bargaining, Negotiation & Contract, which includes the vote on the contract, when a sister-in-law is employed by another district and is a member of its local education association.

While not revising A03-15 itself, the commission through the amended summary, has indicated that when it said “any matters touching upon negotiations,” it was including the vote on the contract. By so doing, the commission has revised its position on out-of-district similar statewide union affiliation conflicts. Previously, board members with an out-of-district similar statewide union affiliation conflict were able to fully participate in the negotiations process and vote on the Memorandum of Agreement when all salary guides and compensation issues were finalized. This position of the commission was memorialized in public advisory opinion A14-00, which was issued in light of the State Board of Education’s decision, In the Matter of Pannucci, issued March 3, 2000. A14-00 is no longer considered valid advice.

Board members are encouraged to discuss the ramifications of these clarifications at their local board level and consult with their board attorney for advice on how to proceed.

Also see BlogTalkRadio: SEC Members Address Recent Opinions in this week’s SBN.