The School Ethics Commission recently issued one public advisory opinion and one case law determination regarding board of education member and charter school board of trustee conduct.
Advisory Opinion A24-16 – The School Ethics Commission (SEC) was faced with a question regarding a board of education member and his ability to participate in 2017 negotiations. The board member was a retired teacher, retiring in 2001 from the neighboring school district to which the board of education sent its high school students until the 2015-2016 school year. Prior to retirement, the board member was an NJEA member in the receiving district, and was active in the local NJEA affiliate, serving as committee chair, vice-president and president, by which he served as an ad hoc member of the negotiating team. He is currently a member of the New Jersey Retired Educators Association (NJREA) but is not otherwise involved with the Association in any way.
The SEC found the significant amount of time between the board member’s active, involved membership in the local affiliate of the NJEA and the present to be an important factor. Given the time that has elapsed (2001-2016), the SEC did not believe that there were any limitations under the School Ethics Act for the board member; full participation in 2017 negotiations would be permitted. The SEC cautioned the board member to be concerned, should a matter come before the board which might affect or benefit a retired member of the NJEA, such as benefit changes through negotiations. The SEC further cautioned that, as a board member, he must always be cognizant of the responsibility to protect the public trust and the obligation to serve the interests of the public and board, and constantly evaluate if a conflict has developed on a matter coming before him as a board member. See the advisory opinion here.
C27-16 – The SEC found no probable cause to credit the allegation that a board of education member violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(b) or (f) of the School Ethics Act or N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(e) of the Code of Ethics for School Board members when she used a school facility to clean and store chickens for her personal business, Manna from Heaven, and allegedly received compensation for catering an event for students, parents, staff and guests, namely the NJ JROTC Military Dance.
As to the use of the school facility, the board member did use the facility for the purpose stated, but sought board approval prior to the use of the facility and the board approved the request. The board member abstained from the approval vote. The SEC found no probable cause to credit the allegation that the board member used her official position to secure an unwarranted privilege, advantage or employment.
As to the catering of the NJ JROTC Military Dance, neither the respondent nor her personal business organization purchased or provided food to the dance; she and her personal business organization only stored, prepared and cooked the food free of charge. The SEC found no probable cause that the board member used or allowed to be used her public office, or any information not generally available to the public, which she received in the course of or by reason of her office, for the purpose of securing financial gain for herself or her business organization.
As to the alleged Board Member Code of Ethics violation, the SEC found no probable cause that the board member made a personal promise or took action beyond the scope of her duties that had the potential to compromise the board. The SEC further found that the board member’s involvement with the event was as a private citizen with a non-profit personal business organization and not as a board member.
The SEC dismissed the complaint for failure to provide sufficient facts to support a finding of probable cause. Read the text of the case here.
Commissioner Decisions The commissioner of education recently issued three decisions regarding filing of disclosure statements in which the Commissioner concurred with the penalty recommendation of the School Ethics Commission. Two board members were found to have violated the School Ethics Act and were reprimanded. One board member was suspended for 30 days or until she re-filed her disclosure statements. If she failed to file within 30 days, she would be removed from office.
In two different decisions, the SEC determined that a board member violated the School Ethics Act by failing to file his Personal/Relative and Financial Disclosure forms in a timely manner. The board member ultimately filed the disclosure statements after the issuance of an Order to Show Cause, but prior to the meeting at which the SEC issued its decision. Because the disclosure forms were ultimately filed, the SEC recommended the penalty of reprimand and forwarded its determination to the commissioner of education. The commissioner concurred with the penalty of reprimand in consequence of the respondent’s failure to timely honor an obligation placed upon school board members by law. The commissioner further admonished the respondent for causing the unnecessary expenditure of administrative and adjudicative resources at both the state and local levels. The cases are as follows: In the Matter of Ronald Murphy, Beverly City Board of Education, Burlington County, Commissioner 2016:November 10; and In the Matter of Alex Janklowicz, Lakewood Board of Education, Ocean County, Commissioner 2016: November 15
The School Ethics Commission also determined that a charter school trustee violated the School Ethics Act by filing disclosure statements that were identified as incomplete, and by failing to correct or re-submit the disclosure statements when asked to do so. The SEC recommended the sanction of a suspension for 30 days or until the trustee corrected and submitted her disclosure statements. If respondent failed to file her disclosure statements after 30 days, the SEC recommended the penalty of removal from office. If the requisite disclosure statements were filed within the 30 days, the SEC recommended the penalty of reprimand. The SEC forwarded its determination to the commissioner of education. The commissioner concurred with the penalty and additionally admonished the respondent for failing to timely honor an obligation placed upon charter school trustees by law since such failure has resulted in unnecessary expenditure of administrative and adjudicative resources at both the state and local levels. The case in question is In the Matter of Nicaury Miller, The Gray Charter School, Essex County, Commissioner 2016: November 14