Wednesday, March 19, 2008

School boards wrestle with conflict policies

The following piece appeared in the Union Leader.

School boards wrestle with conflict policies
Union Leader Correspondent
Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2008

EPPING – A conflict-of-interest policy that led two Epping School Board members to resign is an issue that many boards around the state have wrestled with as they've debated whether relatives of board members should be hired for school jobs.

A change made to its Epping's policy in January that now bars family of a school board member from being hired for school supervisory positions came just weeks before former board member Sue Kimball's husband was hired as the district's facilities supervisor.

Kimball resigned from the board to avoid a conflict.

Last week, board member Pam Tibbetts walked out of a school board meeting after abruptly resigning when questions were raised over the policy.

Tibbetts' mother was hired this year as a paraprofessional, but the policy didn't apply to her because she's not serving as a supervisor.

Concerns over potential conflicts are nothing new. In Raymond, the school board's nepotism policy prohibits the hiring of close family members. Under that policy, the board isn't allowed to hire any teacher or other employee if the person is a father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law or brother-in-law of a board member or the superintendent.

The policy states that if a conflict arises, the board member must reveal his or her interest and refrain from discussing or voting on a nomination or other issue.

The policy doesn't apply to a person who was employed by the district before the relationship, the adoption of the policy or a board member's election.

In his two years as Raymonds acting superintendent, Michael Shore said he couldn't think of a time when the board had made an exception to the policy.

That's not the case in Hampstead. The school board there has a similar policy, but it allows exceptions.

Hampstead School Board Chairman Natalie Gallo recalled times when relatives of board members were hired if they were qualified for the job.

"I don't think somebody should not be able to run for a certain position because another member is part of the school district or the town," Gallo said, who spent more than 30 years as a librarian and media generalist in the Hampstead School District.

Gallo said it's more important to look at what the person could contribute to the school. Often, she said, members of the same family look for ways to get involved in their community, which could mean serving on the school board or working for the school district.

"I don't think of this as being conflicts of interest," she said.

Of the seven districts in School Administrative Unit 16, only Stratham has adopted a nepotism policy. SAU 16 Superintendent Arthur "Skip" Hanson said he's seen a few cases where spouses of board members have been hired, but for the most part the lack of policy for the other districts in the SAU hasn't been a problem. The SAU serves Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Kensington, Newfields, Stratham and the Exeter Region Cooperative School District.

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