A long-term school board member in Passaic County has successfully challenged a 2007 statute that, up to now, has been interpreted as prohibiting a person from simultaneously serving on the school boards of an elementary school district and a high school regional school district.
Such dual service was not uncommon prior to the 2007 statute, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-4, and was viewed as beneficial to policy-setting and continuity of education for a community’s students.
Jeff Fischer, a member of the Haledon Board of Education, challenged the statute in Superior Court, Passaic County, arguing against the state Attorney General’s Office. Fischer this year ran unopposed for a seat on the Manchester Regional board and sought to retain his position on the Haledon board.
The Superior Court judge issued the decision favorable to Fischer on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Legislature’s Intent Representing himself before the court, Fischer conducted extensive research into the matter. He found that the Legislature’s intention in enacting the 2007 statute was to prevent an individual from securing salary and pension benefits simultaneously through two publicly funded, elected positions. In New Jersey, however, school board membership is uncompensated, making the prohibition not applicable in his circumstances.
Fischer also argued that it was in the community’s interest to allow individuals to serve on both an elementary and a high school board and contribute to the oversight of the complete K-12 education program.
Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Reddin agreed with Fischer. According to an article published on Northjersey.com, the judge said that the problem that the 2007 statute sought to address—double compensation—was not meant to address Fischer’s situation since school board service involves no pay or benefits.
Boards Go to Heart of Education In his decision, the judge also praised the role of school boards and the dedication of board members.
“We need school boards,” said Reddin. “It goes to the heart of the education of the youth here in New Jersey. We ask these people who are going to fill these school board positions, to do it without pay. Very rarely are they thanked for what they do, I’m sure they are often criticized for what they do.”
For Fischer, that statement was the best part of the judge’s decision.
“It sums up the dedication of school board members across the state and was my favorite of his comments right after ‘I rule in favor of Mr. Fischer,’” he said.
“A tip of the hat to Jeff for his tenacity and his sincere belief in and commitment to school board membership,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director.
Fischer has been a local school board member since the early 1970s, serving at various times on the K-8 Haledon school board and the Manchester Regional High School Board of Education. He is also a former president of NJSBA and currently serves on the Association’s Board of Directors.
Superior Court decisions are applicable only to the county in which they are issued. It is not certain at this time if the state Attorney General will appeal the decision.