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Board Members to Endure Required Background Checks

A new Assembly bill requires the criminal checks within 30 days of election.

In compliance with a new State Assembly bill, the board of education approved a resolution June 14 to require board members to have criminal background checks and to allow for reimbursements of the $85 estimated costs for the procedure.

According to the resolution, board of education members must have a criminal history background check within 30 days of election or appointment to the board as mandated by the bill signed into law May 26. The resolution allows them to be reimbursed for the costs.

At this point, board of education vice president Patrick Breslin said, regulations are still being put together, so applications for the reimbursement cannot be processed yet.

“But board members need to be active participants for background checks,” he said.

Board of education president Evan Lerner said this usually requires a fingerprint as well as the criminal check.

Though the law initially proposed that board members pay for the checks out-of-pocket, the New Jersey School Boards Association asked that the law be amended to allow districts to reimburse members.

As a result, boards can decide whether to pay for the checks or whether the district will reimburse them, and the decided to allow for reimbursement.

“It’s tough to tell which way districts are leaning because it’s so new,” said Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Crimes involving controlled dangerous substances and drug paraphernalia, robbery, aggravated assault, stalking, kidnapping, arson, manslaughter and murder, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats, criminal restraint, luring or enticing a child, causing or risking widespread injury or damage, criminal mischief, burglary, threats or improper influence, resisting arrest, bias intimidation, escape, perjury or false swearing and usury would prevent someone from serving as a board of education member, according to the law.

“Anyone who has been found to be convicted of certain crimes would not be able to serve,” Yaple said. “Essentially, these are the same five crimes that teachers are checked for.”

Under the new law, the board member oath of office from now on will include a specific statement saying that the board member is not disqualified from office because of a conviction.

The policy states that board members would need to undergo the checks one month after the law’s May approval date. However, the sheer number of board members—4,800, not including charter school trustees, according to Yaple—had the Department of Education postponing the background check deadline.

“It will get done but it won’t get done in 30 days,” Yaple said. “They [the Department of Education] need to receive clearance from the federal officials before they can have this done. The center that actually does this has to implement changes in order to do it.”

Most boards have accepted the checks with little dissent, and minimum disruption to their structure, Yaple said.

“Whenever you have an organization with 4,800 members, you will have members who object,” he said. “But generally, there has been support for this.”

“It’s never been required for school board members because school board members never really had any sort of regular contact with students,” he added.

Also at the board of education meeting, member Lynne Hurley said the district will be required to increase school lunch prices throughout the district in accordance with a federal act.

“It requires any schools in the National School Lunch Program to have a minimum price,” she said.

The lunches in the district, Hurley said, have to be increased by 5 cents to comply with mandates, making primary and intermediate school lunches $2.30, middle school lunches $2.45 and high school lunches $2.60.

These changes will take effect in September.

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