September 5, 2014
Robert W. Bender, Chairman and members of the
School Ethics Commission
New Jersey Department of Education
100 Riverview Plaza
Trenton, NJ 08625
Dear Chairman Bender and Commission members:
I understand that the Legislature passed the School Ethics Act to establish uniform and enforceable ethics standards to guide the actions of local school board members and administrators. The public interest is having such standards is evident from the language of the Act itself which states that
In our representative form of government it is essential that the conduct of members of local boards of education and local school administrators hold the respect and confidence of the people. These board members and administrators must avoid conduct which is in violation of their public trust or which creates a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated. To ensure and preserve public confidence, school board members and local school administrators should have the benefit of specific standards to guide their conduct and of some disciplinary mechanism to ensure the uniform maintenance of those standards among them. N.J.S.A. 18A:12-22.
Given this legislative policy, I find it offensive when school board members who are subject to the Ethics Act negotiate a secret settlement agreement with an ethics complainant in which the complainant receives a substantial cash pay out in exchange for her agreeing “not to voluntarily testify” in any of the ethics matters pending against the Board members for her agreeing to “advise the School Ethics Commission in writing that she believes that [her financial settlement] is sufficient to resolve all the ethics claims she had originally instituted including those now prosecuted by the School Ethics Commission.”
This is exactly what happened, however, in the Perth Amboy School District’s secret settlement agreement with former school superintendent Janine Walker Caffrey which is fully described on my blog here. This appears to be nothing more than an attempt by craven school board members to use public and insurer money to get themselves out of hot water.
I note that the settlement agreement provides that Caffrey may still testify in these ethics matters if commanded by the Commission’s subpoena. At your next meeting, I ask that you issue a subpoena to compel Caffrey’s testimony. This way, the pending ethics matters against the school board members will be decided on their merits which, I believe, it what the legislature intended.
I look forward to learning the Commission’s decision on this matter.
Very truly yours,