Board members who plan to interview people for jobs other than the superintendent’s position may want to reconsider.

Interviewing district personnel for employment is an administrative function. The School Ethics Commission (SEC) has found that board member or trustee participation in personnel interviews falls outside the authority of the board and its members. That is why the SEC discourages the practice.

A human resources or personnel committee may be created at the board level to discuss district-wide employment needs, practices, procedures, and policies, but it would be better to separate the duties of any committee that interviews district personnel from those of the general personnel committee. Only the superintendent may approve establishment of a committee to interview personnel, and administrative staff (not board members) must coordinate the committee’s activities.

Even so, whether a board member may participate on an interview committee depends on the purpose of the committee. The SEC guidance permits a board member to participate on an interview committee during the hiring process if no more than one or two board members or trustees participate. However, the SEC has also advised that board member participation in or observation of an exit interview for a district employee would overstep the board member’s authority, and would therefore violate the School Ethics Act.

In view of the above, if board members or trustees are participating in personnel interviews during the hiring process, regardless of whether the board has formed a personnel committee, such members or trustees may not:

  • Conduct the interview,
  • Offer more than just their observations and assessments,
  • Make a final recommendation regarding a candidate, and/or
  • Have a role in candidate selection, except for the position of superintendent.

Furthermore, participating board members or trustees must understand that only the superintendent may make recommendations to the board regarding hiring. Indeed, there is existing precedent for the removal of a board member from office for, among other things, interviewing and hiring employees without the recommendation of the superintendent.

Board members and trustees may want to consider the following provisions of the Code of Ethics for School Board Members, N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1, in assessing whether participation in personnel interviews may be appropriate:

  • Subsection (c), which requires that a board member will “confine my board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal, and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them”;
  • Subsection (d), which states that a board member is “not to administer the schools, but together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run”; and
  • Subsection (h), which requires a board member to “vote to appoint the best qualified personnel available after consideration of the recommendation of the chief administrative officer,” along with the corresponding statute, N.J.S.A. 18A:27-4.1 (allowing a board of education to appoint, transfer or remove an employee only with the recommendation of the chief school administrator).

Boards should be further mindful that if the number of board members or trustees placed on the personnel interview committee constitutes a quorum of the board, Open Public Meetings Act requirements would be triggered.

Advisory Opinions Three SEC advisory opinions provide helpful guidance on board member and trustee participation in personnel interviews: A31-15, A04-12, and A15-10. Additionally, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education upheld an SEC decision removing a board member for, among other things, interviewing and hiring employees without the recommendation of the superintendent in C36-02. Finally, school officials may request an advisory opinion from the School Ethics Commission to determine whether board member or trustee participation in personnel interviews may be appropriate in a specific situation.

NJSBA strongly advises boards of education to discuss participation in personnel interviews with their superintendent and board attorney(s) before engaging in such participation.

Asked & Answered is prepared by the staff of NJSBA’s Legal and Labor Relations Services Department.