Earlier this month, the School Ethics Commission (SEC) issued public advisory opinion 06-19 concerning a school board member who was also a school bus driver for a bus company that had a contract with the board on which the member sat. The SEC determined that, absent additional facts and information, the board member may continue as a board member while she is employed as a bus driver for the bus company without violating the School Ethics Act, provided that her board activity concerning district transportation issues and the district students and staff on her routes is curtailed.

The SEC viewed the board member as a private employee of a company that contracts with the district and, as a result, she comes into casual, temporary contact with students and bus aides over whom she has a limited level of authority. The board member does not have an ownership interest in the bus company, and does not obtain financial benefit from the company, other than her earnings as a bus driver. While the board does not have direct supervisory authority over the bus driver-board member, the SEC noted that when there is a concern with the performance of an employee of the bus company, the common practice is for the bus company to honor the administration’s request and remove the employee from all district routes.

Even though the SEC found no violations of the School Ethics Act under the facts presented, it recommended that the board member discuss reassignment with her employer to routes that do not involve district students or personnel. Reassignment would eliminate the opportunity for the board member to have even temporary contact and/or authority over district students and personnel (bus aides), and would eliminate the possibility of any situation involving the need for her employment to be reviewed or considered by her board.

If reassignment is not possible, the SEC advised that the board member should not deliberate or vote on any transportation issue involving the bus company (including contracts and payments), any issue involving the specific students who are on her route(s), or any issue involving the specific bus aides that may be on her bus. In addition, should an incident occur on a bus that the board member witnesses and/or reports to district officials, she would be prohibited from being involved in any discussion (or vote) regarding the incident. Finally, and for as long as she maintains her employment with the bus company, the board member should refrain from being involved in the discussion (or vote) of transportation services/issues, generally.

For further information about this opinion, contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at 609-278-5254 or contact your board attorney.