November 22, 2011 • Vol. XXXV • No. 18
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School Boards Call for Change to Criminal Check Law

School board members at NJSBA’s Delegate Assembly on Saturday called for a process that would allow board members to demonstrate rehabilitation if they are disqualified from serving on a board as a result of the state-mandated criminal background checks for board members.

In all, 148 delegates visited the Wyndham Princeton Forrestal Conference Center in Plainsboro to discuss the one resolution on the agenda, submitted by the Burlington City Board of Education.  The delegates approved, by a vote of 72 percent to 28 percent, of language that says, “NJSBA believes that board members and charter school trustees should have the opportunity to demonstrate affirmatively to the Commissioner of Education evidence of rehabilitation upon finding of a criminal offense that would disqualify them from membership.”

Due Process Needed “There is no law in the State of New Jersey to which there is no defense,” said Jennifer Montone, the delegate from the Burlington City school board. “The law that requires all school board members to submit to a background check does not allow for anyone to defend themselves.”

In May, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a measure that calls for criminal background checks of all school board members and charter school trustees. 

“The background check, in and of itself, is a good thing,” Montone told school board members at the Nov. 19 Delegate Assembly. “But if a person has had no infractions over the course of many years and has shown that they are no threat to our children and to the integrity of the school board, why should they be precluded from serving as a volunteer?

“What message do we send to our children when we say that your past will dictate your future for the rest of your life?” she asked. “A failing grade in the first marking period of your life does not mean that you fail for the rest of your life. There has to be an opportunity for someone to rehabilitate.”

Not all board members agreed. “We represent the students and the parents of the community,” said William Sullivan, the North Hanover delegate. “It’s important that people on the school board set an example, and I don’t want to see shadows cast on that image.”

The final vote was 98-38.

Decisions made by the Delegate Assembly become Association policy, and determine what NJSBA will fight for, or against, in the state legislature, before the state Department of Education, in Washington, and in the courts.

Holzberg Honored In other Delegate Assembly news, Diane Holzberg was recognized for being named New Jersey’s 2011 School Board Member of the Year.

The 24-year member of the Demarest Board of Education learned of the honor last month.  On Saturday, NJSBA President Raymond Wiss congratulated her for her work and presented her with a plaque.

Holzberg used the opportunity to praise the work of her colleagues.

“For me, this award highlights what we do as school board members and our commitment to the children of our state,” she said. Holzberg also acknowledged her local board in Demarest and the support of the district’s superintendent and school business administrator.

Given annually since 2005, the School Board Member of the Year award honors a board member who makes significant contributions to their school district, exemplifies leadership, demonstrates a commitment to professional development, and shows active involvement in school governance at the local, county and state levels.

Nominations for the honor were judged by an independent panel from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Jennifer Montone of the Burlington City Board of Education discusses her board’s resolution at the Nov. 19 Delegate Assembly.

NJSBA President Raymond Wiss congratulates Diane Holzberg for being named New Jersey’s School Board Member of the Year



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