On May 5, Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed A-444, which would require school board members and charter school trustees to undergo a criminal history background check and would disqualify board members who have been convicted of certain crimes.
In his conditional veto, the governor recommended changes that include additional grounds for disqualification of school board members in accordance with the recently enacted amendments to the anti-bullying law, as well as providing for the disqualification of school board members convicted of a fourth-degree crime involving a minor victim.
The Assembly passed the revised bill by a vote of 76-0 on May 9. The next voting session of the Senate is currently scheduled for May 23, and the bill could come up for a vote then.
The measure has been popular with legislators since it was first proposed last year. Thirty-one lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, are sponsors or co-sponsors.
NJSBA successfully sought changes that allow school districts, instead of individual unpaid board members, to pay for the background checks, and which add charter school trustees to the list of those who must undergo background checks.
Bill’s Provisions A-444 requires that anyone elected or appointed to any board of education would be disqualified from serving because of a current or past conviction for any of the crimes that, under existing law, would disqualify a person from working in a public school. It provides that the oath of office taken by a school board member before assuming office will contain a specific declaration that the member is not disqualified from holding that office due to conviction of one of those crimes or offenses. A member who falsely swears that he or she is not disqualified due to a conviction would be guilty of a fourth-degree crime.
The bill requires each school board member, within 30 days of being elected or appointed to the board, to undergo a criminal history background investigation. A board member holding office on the bill’s effective date must undergo a background investigation within 30 days.
The State Bureau of Identification will immediately inform the state commissioner of education of any new charges filed against any board member who has previously undergone a background investigation.
Paying for Checks The cost of the background investigation will be the responsibility of the school board member, but unexpended campaign funds may be used for this purpose. The bill, however, allows local boards of education or charter schools to reimburse individuals for these costs.
Under existing law, a candidate for election to a board of education, when filing a nominating petition, must certify that the candidate is legally qualified to hold that office. Making a false statement made in connection with a nominating petition is a crime of the fourth degree.
School Board Notes will update readers on the progress of the bill.