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Appellate Division Affirms Board Member’s Eligibility to Serve on Board of Education

By on April 15, 2016 in Other with 0 Comments

On March 7, 2016, the Appellate Division in Stargell v. Snyder, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 485 (App. Div. 2016) affirmed the trial court’s determination that a board member of the Pennsauken Board of Education (“Board”), who assigned an outstanding claim against the Board for reimbursement of unused sick leave to her adult daughter, was not disqualified from serving on the Board.

The Board employed Margaret Snyder as a school nurse for twenty-seven years. In March 2013, she provided notice of her retirement effective July 1, 2013. Snyder then made a request to the Board for compensation for unused sick leave time totaling approximately $14,000. On June 4, 2013, prior to her retirement, Snyder filed a nominating petition to run for the Board. She was then successful in securing a seat on the Board during the November 2013 election. Snyder was slated to be sworn into office in January 2014.

Plaintiffs, who were other candidates running for the Board, filed their complaint after the election in the Law Division of the Superior Court alleging that Snyder was ineligible to serve on the Board because of her outstanding request for reimbursement of unused sick leave. Plaintiffs alleged that Snyder violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-2, which bars a member of the Board from having a direct or indirect claim against the Board. In response, Snyder initially attempted to resolve the outstanding claim with the Board prior to being sworn into office, but her efforts were unsuccessful. Therefore, in order to cure the alleged conflict, Snyder executed an assignment of her claim to her adult daughter, who was not a member of her household. Snyder filed the assignment with the Board on January 1, 2014. She was sworn into office on January 6, 2014.  Ultimately on January 30, 2014, the Board, without Snyder’s participation, approved payment of claim.

Under these circumstances, the Appellate Division found that Snyder did not maintain a direct or indirect interest in a claim against the Board in violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-2 after she assigned her claim for reimbursement of unused sick leave time to her daughter.  Specifically, the Appellate Division rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that Snyder had an indirect interest because the Commissioner of Education has held that a family member’s claim does not create an incurable conflict of interest “where a choice can freely be made between board membership and maintaining a claim against the board.”  Moreover, the Appellate Division determined that there existed no contractual or public policy prohibition against Snyder assigning her claim to another individual.

The Appellate Division also noted that even after Snyder assigned the claim to her adult daughter, no evidence suggested that she had a direct or indirect interest in that claim, particularly in light of the fact that the daughter was not part of Snyder’s household. Further, no evidence suggested that Snyder and her daughter maintained a financial arrangement in which Snyder would later receive payment of the claim from her daughter.

Board members may review advisory opinions and decisions by the School Ethics Commission to provide guidance when confronted with a potential conflict of interest issue. However, as conflict issues may arise from unique factual circumstances, board of education members should consult with their board attorney.

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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