Recently New Jersey’s School Ethics Commission (SEC) made public 36 advisory opinions, dating back to February 2013.
Any school official who has questions as to whether some particular future conduct would violate the School Ethics Act may request an advance opinion (called an advisory opinion) from the School Ethics Commission.
When the SEC believes that its advice on a particular matter will provide guidance on an issue of importance to board members, the SEC can make that advisory opinion public by a vote of six of its nine members; in such cases the confidentiality of the name or district of the person requesting the opinion will not be publicly disclosed.
It is important to remember that each opinion is based on the specific facts before the School Ethics Commission and may or may not be comparable with a specific factual situation in another school district. Board members and school administrators are encouraged to discuss the new opinions with board counsel as to local district applicability.
Over the next few editions of School Board Notes, NJSBA will be providing summaries of the newly released public advisory opinions. Each week will cover a particular conflict area, starting this week with collective bargaining, negotiations and contracts.
The full opinions may be found on the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) website at the School Ethics Advisory Opinion section. The case number at the beginning of each summary is also linked to the full text of the specific opinion.
A29-12 (2/20/13) – Setting aside the question as to whether the board member’s child is a dependent, because the child is a “relative” under the School Ethics Act, a board member whose daughter is under contract as a coach in the district may not evaluate the superintendent and must recuse himself from any committee issue, policy discussion or vote wherein there is any potential benefit for the daughter. The linkage was found because coaching stipends are a line item of discussion during negotiations. The superintendent also has indirect supervisory authority over coaches in the district. The conduct is a potential violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(c).
A03-13 (5/1/13) – The School Ethics Commission determined that board members must recuse themselves from any discussion, decision, vote or action related to the superintendent when a board member’s mother is employed by a community organization that independently sponsors an after-care program using district facilities. The board issues a paycheck to the board member’s mother and annually approves her re-appointment. The conduct is a potential violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(c).
A10-13 (6/25/13) – Where the district has entered into a shared services agreement providing for professional security and a civilian safety program, a board member who works for the local police department or who has a spouse working in the department must recuse him or herself from any discussion or vote on any matter regarding the shared services agreement. Additionally, the member may not vote on any non-itemized bills for payment to the police department for the services in the shared services agreement. The conduct is a potential violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(c).
A13-13 (7/31/13) – Board members must recuse themselves from participation in negotiations with the local union affiliate (NJEA) or in other matters related to their duties on the board if the member is employed by the NJEA; or, the member is employed by County Special Services with which the local board of education has a number of contracts for classified student services. The conflict endures for the duration of the board member’s term of office
A15-13 (8/28/13) – A board member who is not married but has been in a long-term personal relationship and cohabitates with the confidential secretary of the business administrator creates a conflict for the board member under application of N.J.S.A.18A:12-24(b). The board member may not participate in employment matters involving the business administrator or superintendent of schools.
A19-13 (12/20/13) – Board members who are municipal employees affiliated with a municipal union whose collective bargaining agreements are voted upon by the town council, must recuse themselves from negotiations, employment discussions and voting on teacher contracts when a teacher is member of the municipal town council. Similarly, the board members must recuse themselves and abstain from voting on all individual issues involving the teacher/council member. The conduct is a potential violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(b) and (c).
A07-14 (4/23/14) A board member would violate N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(c) if he were to participate in the negotiation of the local collective bargaining agreement when he is a secretary in another district who is subject to a local union contract because the two unions are NJEA affiliates, despite the fact that the board member is not a member of the union and only pays a representation fee.
A09-14 (4/23/14) A board member would violate N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24(c) if he were to negotiate or be involved in discussions with the local New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) affiliate when the board member is employed in a different district and represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), even though it is a different statewide teachers union. The two unions share common traits and common goals in their efforts to negotiate a contract. Moreover, they often share the same personnel, the same strategies, negotiators, and labor relations officials.
A10-14 (4/23/14) A board member must limit certain board activity when the member’s spouse is the mayor of the local municipality or the board member’s cousin is employed by the school district. The conduct is a potential violation ofN.J.S.A.18A:12-24(b), (c) and (f).
A25-14 (6/25/14) – The SEC declined an advisory opinion request, citing an existing opinion, Martinez v. Abolino. The commission noted that a board member whose spouse is a district paraprofessional or substitute-paraprofessional employee may not participate in any employment or personnel issues of those who have influence over or affect the spouse’s employment in any manner. Such involvement would reasonably be expected to impair the board member’s objectivity or independence of judgment. This includes, but is not limited to, participation in any discussion pre-hire or post-hire, selection of a search committee or firm, the vetting process, evaluation or contract discussion regarding the superintendent.
A30-14 (8/27/14) – A board member whose son is employed as a summer student worker or whose spouse is employed as a substitute in the school district may not participate in any employment or personnel issues of those who have influence over or affect the son or spouse’s employment in any manner. Such involvement would reasonably be expected to impair the board member’s objectivity or independence of judgment. This includes, but is not limited to, participation in any discussion pre-hire or post-hire, selection of a search committee or firm, the vetting process, evaluation or contract discussion regarding the superintendent. These limitations will exist for as long as the son is employed with the district as a summer student worker or the spouse is employed as a substitute teacher in the district.
A34-14 (8/27/14) – A board member’s 45-year affiliation with the NJEA over the course of his career, prior to retiring and becoming a board of education member, is so extensive that the member is prohibited from engaging in all negotiations and discussions regarding NJEA members or participating in board deliberations with the NJEA affiliate. The board member was a teacher and NJEA member for 26 years, union president for 20 of those years, an NJEA employee for seven years as a field representative, seven years as an organizing representative and receives lifetime health and prescription benefits paid entirely by the NJEA. The close nexus between the board member and the NJEA is reasonably expected to impair his objectivity and independence of judgment. This prohibition extends for the duration of the board member’s term or the length of his service on the board.
A43-14 (11/26/14) – A superintendent who resides with a non-dependent child employed in another district, who, through an agency shop provision, receives the benefit of the collective bargaining agreement in the other district, negotiated by the same statewide union with which the board is negotiating (NJEA) may not participate in negotiations between the board and local union (NJEA) affiliate. Participation in negotiations would constitute use of the superintendent’s official position to secure unwarranted privileges, advantages or employment for herself, members of her immediate family or others. The non-dependent child would be considered an “other” in this context.
Information on how to request an advisory opinion from the School Ethics Commission is online at the NJDOE website.