Ethics Commission Chastises Charter School Trustees

Reprimands for not meeting training requirements based at least in part on miscommunications

The School Ethics Commission’s annual review of local school board members to see if they’ve met their required training usually doesn’t draw much notice. Typically, it’s just a handful of reprimands for the tardy or recalcitrant.

But the release of the decisions from the commission’s November meeting drew a little more attention. There were considerably more reprimands, with the vast majority this year against charter school trustees.

In fact, 15 of the 19 rulings issued overall were to those serving on charter school boards, including four whom the commission recommended be suspended or removed if not meeting the requirements by January.

A Slap on the Wrist

The rest were official reprimands after the trustees eventually met the requirements, little more than a slap on the wrist, and a quiet one at that. A couple of the trustees contacted said it was more a matter of confusion over what was required, rather than neglect.

But the reprimands also point out the chasms that sometimes exist between traditional schools and charters, which operate independently of local districts and oftentimes by different rules.

It’s a gap that state and school board officials said they hope to remedy in the case of the training, which has been required of all school board members to get them up to speed with the operations they oversee.

The New Jersey School Boards Association conducts the annual training on topics of governance, finance, school law and state monitoring. Starting in 2007, all members are required to participate in each of their first three years in office.

But a spokesman for the state Department of Education (DOE) said it was not always able to supply the association the specific names of charter trustees, leading to some miscommunications. Others said some of those names were incorrect, leading to further confusion.

“More cases are being reported because the Department of Education stepped up efforts during the past year or two to ensure that the charter schools provided the New Jersey School Boards Association with trustee contact information,” said department spokesman Alan Guenther.

“Now more trustees are being identified and ordered to be in compliance,” Guenther said by email. “The statistics show that, by providing better data, we are improving compliance.”

Relevant Training?

The leader of the state’s charter school association said part of the problem also lies in the relevance of the training for charter trustees, including a session on the state monitoring system that charters do know go through. Charters, are reviewed separately through a state renewal process.

“Yes, training is important, but it’s designed for elected school boards, and charter school boards do operate very differently,” said Carlos Perez, executive director of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.

“It’s often just one school. We’re not elected, and it’s often more like a non-profit board than a public school body,” he said.

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