To the editor:
The purpose of the school board is to observe state statutes regarding conflict of interest and to engage in school district business activities in a fashion designed to avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety. One of these conflicts sets limitations on board members being related to employees.
IV. Limitations on related employees
A. The school board can hire or dismiss teachers only at duly called meetings. Where a husband and wife, brother and sister or two brothers or sisters constitute a quorum, no contract employing a teacher may be made or authorized except upon the unanimous vote of the full school board.
B. The school board may not employ any teacher related by blood or marriage to a school board member, within the fourth degree as computed by the civil law, except by a unanimous vote of the full school board.
It seems clear one of the candidates seeking election to the upcoming school board vacancy is in violation of this conflict. Has this been voted on by the board and if so when? Are they avoiding their own policies to accommodate certain candidates or is this just an oversight of things not researched?
Editor's note: The Echo Press contacted the school district for a response to the questions raised by this letter. Here it is:
To the editor:
A concern was brought forth regarding the appointment of board member Jeff Patience was in violation of School Board Policy #209, Section IV, Letter B which reads “The school board may not employ any teacher related by blood or marriage to a school board member, within the fourth degree as computed by civil law, except by a unanimous vote of the full school board.”
The context of this language applies to the initial hiring of a teacher, not a teacher already under contract, and would be contrary to continuing contract rights. Said spouse has been a teacher in our district for many years prior to her marriage to Mr. Patience. In further reading of Policy 209 you will note that it aligns with MN Statute 471.88 subd 21, whereas there is a provision that specifically states that the school board may contract with teachers who have a spouse on the school board, provided that certain things are in place (i.e. collective bargaining agreement, a majority of the disinterested school board members approving the contract, and the spouse abstaining from the vote on the contract).
Mr. Patience does not participate in any school board negotiations or personnel committee work, and would recuse himself of voting on the teacher contract And it is also important to note that it is administrators, rather than the school board members, who are responsible for day-to-day supervision of teachers and other employees.
The situation of Mr. Patience is not unique, there are many instances of a board member married to a teacher in other Minnesota school districts. In following common law conflict of interest, which would be a matter in which the board member may have a self interest, whether financial or otherwise. If that type of interest is present, the board member will recuse themselves of a vote or deliberation on the matter.
Alexandria Public Schools, School Board Chair