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New Jersey school boards iron out background screening legislation

Jun 25, 2011 Matt Roesly

Last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ratified legislation that requires all members of the state's Board of Education to undergo background checks within 30 days of being elected. Now, school boards are trying to meet the 30-day deadline and determine who will pay the bill, the Hillsborough Patch reports. Initially, the law proposed that members should pay out of pocket, but it has since been amended as a result of the New Jersey School Boards Association's request that districts be allowed to reimburse them. Currently, members may choose between the two options. If the board decides against reimbursements, campaign funds may be used to cover the bill - which, according to Policy Committee Chairman Judy Haas, can be as high as $100, the news source reports. Volunteer coaches and advisers are permitted to be reimbursed for the costs despite the fact that they do not receive any other compensation from the board. Before the legislation was approved, board members were not required to undergo background screening due to the fact that they do not consistently have direct contact with children. Now, they face checks that are similar to those applied to teachers. "We don't work with them regularly, but we are certainly around them during different events," board member Frank Albolino told The Record. "Anyone who works with children should have a background check." Evidence that a board member has been convicted of any one of a list of crimes is grounds for preventing him or her from serving on the board of education. The list includes robbery, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, resisting arrest, perjury, possession of a dangerous substance or drug paraphernalia, kidnapping and arson, according to Patch. Statewide, there are 4,800 Board of Education members, excluding charter school trustees who must also undergo a background investigation. Because of this large number, the Department of Education had to postpone the 30-day deadline. "It will get done, but it won't get done in 30 days," Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, told the news source. Elsewhere in the county, Maryland's Washington County Board of Education recently voted to reject legislation that required all school volunteers to undergo background checks, according to the Herald Mail. The measure - which will save the county $20,000 - now restricts background screenings to those who spend one-on-one time with children.