School boards get road map from state on ethics

Local school boards looking for direction on how to act -- and how not to act -- now have a state model.

The state Board of Education adopted Wednesday a revised code of ethics and conflicts of interest policy aimed at helping school boards run effectively while avoiding the perils of public office.

The policy was ordered by state lawmakers in response to school board controversies in Clayton and Warren counties that jeopardized accreditation in those systems.

The policy dictates that board members stay out of day-to-day operations, attend board meetings and be prepared to participate, and hire employees only after letting the superintendent weigh in.

The policy also directs board members to announce potential conflicts of interest before a board takes action, and it states that members can be investigated for ethics violations if two-thirds of the board votes to do so.

“This is about local board governance excellence,” said Wanda Barrs, chairwoman of the state school board. “The code of ethics reminds us that were are representing students, teachers, school leaders and our communities, and the integrity of that work is crucial.”

State leaders say this is not an assault on local boards -- they view it as a chance for board members to improve at governing. The state is developing a curriculum based on the new rules that can be used for new board members, who are required by law to get 12 hours of training once they're elected.

State school Superintendent Brad Bryant said he believes there is a connection between high-functioning boards and student achievement.

"It is a call for all school boards to be student-centered and relentless in their pursuit for better expectations for students," he said.