Prepared Notes for Board Meeting – Policy BBF
March 22, 2010
Marc A. Schare
This is a first reading of the deletion of Board Policies BBF and BBF-E, collectively labeled the Board Member Code of Ethics. So why would a board member be against a code of ethics governing the profession of being a board member? The answer lies is the text of the policies.
Before delving into the words, let’s first consider the definition of “Ethics”. Ethics as used in professional settings generally refers to a moral code that governs a profession. The definition of "morality" is generally referring to a discussion of right and wrong, or good and evil. The preface to the Ohio Attorney Code of Ethics puts it best when it says that the Canons of this Code are statements of axiomatic norms expressing in general terms the standards of professional conduct expected of lawyers in their relationship with the public, with the legal system and with the legal profession.
By contrast, board policies BBF and BBF-E do not exclusively concern themselves with the ethical consideration endemic in being a member of the Board of Education. Rather, these policies are mixed parts of regurgitation of Ohio Law and a set of policy guidelines that we received from the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA).
We’ll just take 2 examples to illustrate the issue. Board Policy BBF-E states that as an ethical matter, we must work with our fellow board members to establish effective Board policy. Now, this is a truism if you hope to get anything done, but it hardly rises to the level of an ethical violation if a board member chooses to go it alone once in a while and honestly, we’ve all been guilty of that at one time or another. My second example is even more illustrative. The OSBA Code of Ethics calls on us to delegate administrative authority to the Superintendent and Staff of the district. By definition, anyone that votes against an administrative recommendation, for example, a series of administrator contracts, would then be guilty of an ethics violation. Obviously, this is not true and we have all voted against administrative recommendations from time to time. The problem with these examples, and others in the list, is that the code of Ethics has very little to do with Ethics and more to do with policy guidelines. In other words, it is a series of guidelines into behavior that OSBA believes makes a good board member but the guidelines are cloaked in an ethical shield. I believe it is time to pierce that shield.
Some may ask – what about those guidelines that do represent ethical considerations such as the avoidance of conflicts of interest. These are covered by various statutes of the Ohio Revised Code, notably ORC 102 which is the ethics law for public officials and ORC 2921 which covers conflict of interests and theft in office and the like.
Some of my colleagues have asked what the harm is in leaving these policies in place. In a nutshell, I believe that words mean things. The five of us have spent hours struggling with just the right wording for a policy. A document that portends to be a code of ethics should include only those axiomatic norms that any board member should be expected to live up to. If we start including policy guidelines in the list, we offer a choice to future board members of either agreeing with us or being accused of committing ethical violations.
For all these reasons, I urge my colleague to support the elimination of these two policies and I await your questions.