Ethics Concern Aired At Central Board Of Ed

BERKELEY – Central Regional Board of Education members got into a disagreement over whether one of them voted illegally on a bus trip for teachers.

Island Heights representative Susan Cowdrick questioned whether Berkeley representative Ralph Frulio should have been able to vote on the trip given that he has family teaching in the district.

The issue, Cowdrick said, came down to a vote to send some teachers to another district to shadow other teachers. Central is switching to block scheduling, and educators thought it would be a good idea to go to another district and see firsthand how other teachers did it. Frulio’s “no” vote, along with other members’ “no” votes, caused the trip to get voted down.

“The item was ill-conceived and unnecessary,” Frulio said, defending his vote. “We could do without that bus trip.”

Most of the board was silent about the issue at March’s meeting. The vote had taken place at a previous meeting.

“I don’t understand how he was able to vote,” Cowdrick said. “You can’t pick or choose” to abstain on some items and vote on others.

Cowdrick said she spoke to the New Jersey School Boards Association, which informed her that the only recourse is to press charges “and I don’t want to do that.”

“We all make mistakes. We’re all volunteering,” she said. “We (as a board) pay a lot of legal fees. A lot of legal fees. It’s not my style to bring someone up on charges.”

Cowdrick then spoke more generally, asking if the board could change their policy so that if a board member votes when they shouldn’t, against legal advice, that they should pay their own legal fees.

Board president Tracy Mianulli said that the policy committee of the board could look into that.

Frulio asked how that would work in this case, because it would have to be retroactive back to his vote.

Frulio said it was on the general portion of the agenda. “The attorney said it was a gray area, so I voted on it,” he said.

During this discussion, the attorney, Mark Toscano, said only “I would be happy to speak in executive session,” which is the private portion of the meeting in which the public is excluded.

The board soon went into executive session to discuss the matter.

Board secretary Kevin O’Shea said after the meeting that some discussion about policy development and what was legally able to be put into a policy did take place, but he was legally unable to provide further information. No action on that item came about at the end of the night.