On appeal from the Commissioner of Education, Docket No. 4-5/09A.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 31, 2011
Before Judges Reisner and Sabatino.
Appellant Michael Schiavoni, a member of a local Board of Education, seeks review of a final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Education dated September 15, 2009 and the Acting Commissioner's subsequent denial of appellant's motion for reconsideration. The Commissioner determined that appellant had violated certain provisions within the School Ethics Act, specifically N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(c) and (d), by unduly interfering with the school district's hiring process in selecting new principals for an elementary school within the district and the district's high school. The Commissioner censured appellant based on these proven violations.
Applying the deferential standard of review that we must accord to such administrative agency decisions within an agency's field of expertise, we affirm the Commissioner's determination and the denial of reconsideration.
The following pertinent facts and circumstances emerged from the administrative record.
At all times relevant to this matter, appellant was the president of the Sparta Board of Education ("the School Board"). As noted, the present case stems from appellant's personal involvement in various aspects of the school district's hiring of a principal for the Helen Morgan Elementary School ("the elementary school") and the separate hiring of a principal for the Sparta High School ("the high school").
According to the evidence adduced at hearings before the School Ethics Commission ("the Ethics Commission"), the operative events began in 2006, when appellant personally prepared "a series of staffing document packets to be used in the hiring process for administrative staff positions. The staffing packets consisted of several documents including rating forms, interview forms, rating sheets, an assessment interview guide, an administrative recruiting guide, selection criteria, a list of interview questions, a general recruiting guide and a 'white paper' entitled 'Predicting Future Performance Based on Past Behavior.'" The packets grew out of a staffing process for filling vacant administrative positions that the School Board had approved at its July 17, 2006 meeting.
In April 2007, the principal of the elementary school submitted her letter of resignation to the School Board. The School Board accepted the principal's resignation at its April 25, 2007 meeting. The resignation was effective June 30, 2007, thereby creating the need to find a replacement principal for the upcoming 2007-08 school year. According to the Commission's findings, appellant would not allow the Superintendent of Schools to post the vacancy for nearly six weeks, until he personally developed a detailed process and various forms.
On May 15, 2007, the staffing team charged with identifying candidates for the elementary school principal vacancy had its first meeting. Appellant was a member of that staffing team. The position was advertised in the newspaper, and a deadline of June 1, 2007 established for the submission of applications.
Numerous resumes were received by the school district for the elementary school vacancy. Appellant, along with another member of the School Board on the staffing team, temporarily removed the resumes -- as the record describes it, "out of the district" -- in order to review them personally. This removal of the resumes was alleged to be an irregular action that impeded the district's hiring processes.
According to the allegations against appellant, which both the Ethics Commission and the Commissioner ultimately credited, appellant's interference into the selection process unduly delayed the selection of a new elementary school principal. When the new principal was finally hired, on the brink of the new school year, she was only able to be in the position for three days before the school year began in September 2007. Similarly, the record reflects that appellant also interjected ...