After recent allegations of nepotism and ethics violations shook the New Haven Board of Education in September, the Board has announced intentions to start a new ethics committee.
Darnell Goldson, who promised for more transparency when he was elected to head the Board in January, has spearheaded the effort for the creation of an ethics committee in recent months Goldson announced that applications would be open for the ethics committee at the Oct. 22 board meeting, and that additional information about the formal application process would be discussed at the Nov. 12 board meeting. In an interview with the News, Goldson said that the Board is hoping to fill the committee with a combination of community leaders and parents.
“Like I said when I first became president of the Board, I wanted to make sure that we were following state, local and our own regulations,” Goldson said. “So this commission is part of that and it is not the end all. There are still things we need to do and we need to enforce the bylaws and not break them and continue to make sure that we have as transparent, efficient process as possible.”
In May, the Board created a 49-page document detailing new bylaws for the conduct of board members. One of the revisions to the code created a three-person committee to determine “whether unethical conduct has been engaged in or is likely to be engaged in by any Board of Education member or New Haven Public Schools employee.”
Concrete plans to create the ethics committee comes a month after allegations of unethical behavior were made against board members Edward Joyner and Tamiko Jackson McArthur. According to an article published in the New Haven Register on Sept. 20, an anonymous email was sent to the Board which said that Jackson-McArthur used her position to transfer her children to a school with a competitive wait list. The email also said that Joyner used his influence to ensure his daughter’s appointment to principal of Augusta Lewis Troup School, a K-8 magnet school in New Haven.
In September, Jackson-McArthur told the Register that her children had transferred schools but she was unaware of any allegations against her.
Joyner and Jackson-McArthur did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The ethics commission will investigate and make recommendations for action when allegations of misconduct arise, according to Goldson. The committee will also have the power to advise Board members on whether their actions are permitted in the bylaws. Goldson stressed the importance of an independent body to investigate board ethics. He said he has concerns that people make accusations based on “political motivations,” and an outside body would be an impartial voice to look into these claims.
While he expressed the necessity of appointing people outside the Board, Goldson also said that he is not sure how the appointment process will be specifically implemented. Goldson emphasized that he would “stay away” from adding members of the Board to the committee and that applicants would be questioned at a public hearing.
He added that the seven-member Board will probably invite a few parents or community members to appoint members to the ethics committee as well.
“What other choice do we have? At the end of the day, we are the governing body and no one can appoint a committee through us,” Goldson said about the Board appointing the ethics committee. “We will probably add some community folks and some parents. That makes sense.”
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who serves on the Board, has strongly criticized the formation of an outside body to conduct investigations into Board member actions by Goldson alone. In a statement last month, Harp said that any decision to retain outside counsel to investigate an anonymous complaint should be made by the entire board, not just the leadership or a single member.
“Any decision to retain outside counsel to investigate recent, anonymous complaints about unethical behavior by other board members – or for any reason, for that matter – is the purview of the board of education, not its leadership nor that of any single board member,” the statement read.
She also said that she does not support the hiring of an attorney, although she made no mention of the ethics committee.
Krystal Augustine, president of the district’s parent advocacy organization Citywide Parent Team, said that she supported the formation of an outside committee which would investigate ethics violations more transparently.
“The Board should be doing what the law requires at all time,” Augustine said. “I am not saying they don’t, but it should be transparent that they are following Connecticut State Education Law at all times.”
The New Haven Board of Education meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
Carolyn Sacco | firstname.lastname@example.org