TRENTON – Citing an Old Bridge case where a school board member has been charged with luring a minor, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak yesterday introduced legislation to allow for the immediate and total removal of any school board member who has been charged with a crime of the first, second or third degree that involves a minor.
“We have to recognize that when a school board member is charged with any crime involving a child, their service is called into question,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “For the sake of the other members serving honorably and without the taint of scandal, we need a mechanism in place where the charged member can be quickly removed from office. We have to take a zero-tolerance policy, especially given the school board’s role of helping to shape the minds of young people in the district.”
Senator Lesniak said the new bill, modeled on legislation he sponsored during the 2002-2003 legislative session, would direct county prosecutors to notify the Commissioner of Education when any school board member has been charged with a crime involving a minor. The notice would be forwarded to the School Ethics Commission, which would review the charges and make recommendations to the Commissioner to either immediately remove the person from service or take no action against the person. The Commissioner, in turn, would be given 10 days to adopt, reject, or modify the recommendations of the School Ethics Commission.
If the decision to remove a school board member is adopted, the member would be served with a notice of a disciplinary hearing limited to whether the public interest is served by the member’s removal. Within 30 days of the hearing, the Ethics Commission would make a final recommendation and state its findings in writing, and the Commissioner of Education would act on the Ethics Commission’s recommendations by providing the school board member with a statement of final action by personal service or certified mail.
“Obviously, we want to give any accused school board members a fair hearing, but we have to keep in mind the larger questions of public interest when a member is accused of criminal actions directed at a child,” said Senator Lesniak. “This bill balances the need for swift action with the presumption of innocence of the accused, and if accusations are baseless and without merit, that would come to light in the course of the Ethics Commission’s hearing. Sometimes, however, the public cannot wait sometimes years for a legal outcome and finding of guilt or innocence provide by the New Jersey court system.”
Senator Lesniak said that his most recent inspiration for pushing for this legislation is the case of Old Bridge School Board Member David L. Josselyn, who was arrested earlier in the month for attempting to lure a 10-year-old child to an isolated location. Old Bridge Superintendent Simon M. Bosco noted that Josselyn could not attend school board meetings, because the provisions of his bail agreement prohibited him from setting foot on school property, but that the board has no mechanism to remove him from office unless he is convicted of the charges.
Senator Lesniak said that a similar case occurred in Elizabeth when Board of Education member David Lewis, who was eventually convicted and sent to prison, was allowed to serve his entire three-year term on the board while awaiting trial and under indictment for a crime against a minor. Senator Lesniak said three years was “far too long” when the specter of child abuse and sexual misconduct hangs over the actions of a school board member.
“A position on the local school board is not paid, and it is not a right for all State residents, but a privilege for those who are eligible to serve,” said Senator Lesniak. “When someone’s accused of a crime involving a child, their ability to make the best decisions on behalf of a school district full of children is rightly called into question. This bill creates a mechanism for swift removal of office for school board members when the public interest outweighs the presumption of innocence guaranteed to all accused individuals by our federal Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
The bill is expected to be referred to the Senate Education Committee after its introduction.