Q:My board only takes a voice vote on personnel action items and other actions on our public board meeting agenda. Is this the correct method for recording all board members’ votes?
A: No, that is not correct. New Jersey law establishes board voting requirements for official actions to be taken by boards of education. There are many specific actions which require a roll call vote, as well as the number of affirmative board member votes required to pass an action. For example, for personnel actions, the law states: “A board of education shall appoint, transfer or remove a certificated or non-certificated officer or employee only upon the recommendation of the chief school administrator and by a recorded roll call majority vote of the full membership of the board.”
In addition, the Open Public Meetings Act requires that the minutes of each board meeting reflect the vote of each member. If the vote is not unanimous, a voice vote would not allow for the determination of how each board member voted.
NJSBA recommends that all boards of education have bylaws stating the number of votes required to transact ordinary business and addressing how abstentions are to be counted.
Board members should know that the legal section of the NJSBA website contains a list of board issues where the vote required is more than a majority of the quorum. To get to that list, go to staging.njsba.org/resources/legal, select “Topical School Law Information,” on the left side of the page, then under the heading “Meetings and Records,” select “Voting Requirements for Board Members.”
Jesse Adams, field service representative for Burlington, Hunterdon (partial) and Mercer counties
Q:I am a board member and I volunteer in our district on a regular basis. Also my son is a substitute teacher in our district. Does this pose any conflict for me as a board member?
A: Recent School Ethics Commission Public Advisory Opinions suggest that a family member substituting in the district or a board member who volunteers in the district may create a conflict for the board member regarding participation in personnel decisions. A board member with either of these situations should consult their board attorney for advice on participation in personnel matters. An advisory opinion could also be requested from the Ethics Commission if further clarification is needed.
Charlene Zoerb, field service representative, Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean (partial) counties
Q: Is there any leeway in having a member attend a committee meeting as a silent observer only, without violating the Sunshine Law and compelling the board to post notice of the meeting if such attendance by the additional board member would constitute a quorum of the board?
A: The Open Public Meetings Act (Sunshine Law) “establishes the right of all citizens to have adequate advance notice of all public meetings and the right to attend meetings at which any business affecting the public is discussed or acted upon.” It goes on to describe what constitutes a meeting and one of those qualifiers is that a majority of the board members are present. Typically committee meetings have less than a majority of board members present. However, if a non-committee board member attends the meeting, it could push the board member count up to a majority of the board. As a result, if a majority of board members are going to be present, it now becomes a public meeting for which the public has the right to be informed about the meeting and attend. Some boards have a practice that if a committee member knows that he/she will be absent from a committee meeting, another interested board member can attend in his or her place.
Charlene Peterson, field service representative, Essex, Hudson and Morris counties
Q: Should the school district business administrator or board secretary be sitting in on the closed session meetings the board is having to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation or during the evaluation conference?
A: No. He or she should not sit in on those meetings since the board is discussing the performance of his or her supervisor. When the board is having these meetings, either the board president or another board member, assigned by the board president, should take minutes of the meeting. Those minutes should include the following: the board convened into closed session for purposes of discussing the superintendent’s performance, consensus was reached on the evaluation and the time the meeting was adjourned.
Kathy Winecoff, field service representative, Monmouth & Ocean (partial) counties
Q: Can the board president make a motion at a board meeting?
A: As the board official presiding over the meeting, most board presidents need and value the work of all the members and in that role, prefer that motions come from the members. That being said, there is nothing that prohibits a board president from making a motion or seconding a motion, since they have the same rights as all board members.
Theresa Lewis, field service representative, Camden, Gloucester & Salem counties
Q: Our district has a Facebook page. There are sometimes terrible and inaccurate posts there about the school district. How should we react to them?
A: Your district should have the administrator responsible for updating the website and Facebook page review with the superintendent the posts that are concerning and if appropriate, provide accurate information on the issue on your website. Many districts have created an FAQ on their website to address community concerns on issues such as the budget, referenda, PARCC and the Common Core. An FAQ will correct a great deal of misinformation and provide a resource for your parents and community members. You can also refer people on the Facebook page to the correct information on your website.
If you see a negative posting about your school district, it’s only natural to feel upset and want take it down off the website. But it’s important not to overreact and engage with every negative comment. If there is a factual error and your district decides to respond to a post, it’s important that the response is strictly factual and that whoever responds keeps a calm and impersonal tone. Remember your audience isn’t just one irrational community member – it’s everyone in the community who will read your district’s answer.
Gwen Thornton, field service representative, Hunterdon (partial), Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties
Q:May I meet with two fellow board members (our board has five members) to ask questions and receive an orientation for me as a new board member?
A: While it is great that you want to learn more about your board’s polices, operations and procedures and your fellow members are supportive and willing to assist you in your orientation, you cannot meet with two of them outside a legally advertised board meeting. Under the Open Public Meetings Act, a majority of the board is not permitted to meet without the meeting being legally advertised and held in public. Since your board has five members, you and the two assisting members would equal a majority of the full membership.
It is considered a best practice for boards to design and implement an effective in-district new board orientation. Another option is to meet individually (separately) with each of the two members, the superintendent (a non-voting board member) and the business administrator to review all current agendas and board items.
Al Annunziata, field service representative, Bergen County
Q: Who runs the board reorganization meeting, and does the board have to elect a president and vice president?
A: We often get questions from board members on who runs the reorganization meeting, since before there has been a vote, the board doesn’t officially have a president or vice president. Typically, the board secretary or the business administrator temporarily takes over and runs the meeting until a new president is elected, and then the new president takes over the job of running the meeting.
In answer to the second part of your question, yes, the president and the vice president have to be elected at the reorganization meeting. If they are not elected at the reorganization meeting, the executive county superintendent will appoint the president and/or vice president. Robynn Meehan, field service representative, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties