January is an unusual time of year to think about the NJSBA Delegate Assembly, which takes place in May and November. However, two fairly recent and seemingly unrelated developments brought to mind the semi-annual meeting and its significance.

The first was the passing of Nelson Mandela on December 5. Driving to work the following day, I heard an interview on WCBS radio with former Gov. Tom Kean about New Jersey’s statement against apartheid. Few people will remember that, in 1985, Governor Kean took a courageous stand by signing a measure that divested $2 billion in state pension funds from companies doing business in South Africa. New Jersey was the first state government to take such action, and it had an impact.

Even fewer people will recall that, as the international momentum against apartheid continued to build, the NJSBA took its own stand—within the context of education legislation—at a Delegate Assembly the following year. A wide majority of the 200 local board members present at the meeting voted to seek amendment to the Public School Contracts Act to permit school districts to disqualify bidders who engaged in business in or with South Africa.

The desired statutory change eventually became moot when apartheid started coming to an end in 1990. Nonetheless, the belief stated in the resolution—that the practice was contrary to the liberties guaranteed by the U.S. and New Jersey Constitutions and which are taught to the state’s public school children—represented a critical statement by NJSBA. (Read The New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/1986/12/14/nyregion/boards-vote-on-south-africa.html.)

Since the 1980s, NJSBA has fine-tuned the Delegate Assembly process, so that broad statements of belief on education can guide the Association in addressing issues before the legislature, the state Board of Education, congress and the courts. One of those beliefs involves the decision-making authority of local boards of education. And that brings to mind the second Delegate Assembly-related event.

At the close of 2013, we saw enactment of NJSBA-initiated legislation that extends the filing deadline for board of education candidacy in the November school election and makes other critical changes in the election process. A significant part of the bill resulted directly from a resolution adopted by the May 2013 Delegate Assembly. The provision requires municipal governing bodies that are considering a change in the school election date—from April to November or, starting in 2016, from November to April—to notify the affected school boards so that they have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the change.

Statute allows a change in school election date by school board resolution, municipal resolution or voter referendum. There have been instances in which school boards were not aware of municipal-initiated changes until after the fact. The new law will cure that problem, which could have become more widespread as the 500-plus school districts with November elections become eligible to change their election dates back to April. The law is linked directly to our belief in local school board authority and, as an added benefit, may encourage critical school board-municipal communication.

I commend NJSBA’s Governmental Relations staff for their efforts. Indeed, we set this “change” as one of our top priorities. A big thank you to Senator Jim Whelan and Assemblymen Lou Greenwald and Troy Singleton for their cooperation and support.

This recent success is not an isolated instance. Over the years, major education policies were initiated by, or reflected in resolutions adopted by the Delegate Assembly, including criminal background checks for school employees, tenure reform (yes, we were on the record with that 39 years ago), the Code of Ethics for School Board Members, and state school construction grants.

In fact, the Delegate Assembly is the first step in enabling the NJSBA to be the voice for local school boards. As local boards of education reorganize, it’s important that they designate a member to serve as the NJSBA delegate.  It’s even more important that they participate in the Delegate Assembly.

Six years ago, we produced an informative video about the Delegate Assembly process. It is still accurate and serves as an excellent vehicle for new and experienced board members to learn about the NJSBA Delegate Assembly process. You can view the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk-vm3FymKM&feature=player_embedded.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at feinsodreflections@njsba.org

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