Four of seven Rockaway Township school board members have ethical conflicts that should prevent them from negotiating or voting to ratify a contract settlement with the teachers union (RTEA). Evidence indicates that recently re-elected members, Friedberger and Puzio were “backed” by the RTEA. And although member, Sue Salny wasn’t, she benefited by sharing lawn signs with endorsed candidates. Board member, Diane Power is a retired RT teacher who recently announced she would have “gone to jail" for the union. Power may also be receiving union health benefits.
Ethically is how we should behave when no one is looking and the normal standard for conflict of interest is appearance. In other words; if conflicts appear possible, assume they exist; elected officials have to be above reproach. However, New Jersey’s Department of Education is outside the norm. The 1991 School Ethics Law specifies that evidence of conflict must be based on more than perception. Since our former candidates deny knowledge of endorsement, complainants must clear a near impossible legal hurdle and prove otherwise. Also, Mrs. Power obviously harbors allegiance for the RTEA. But unless proven beyond any doubt, conflicts are overlooked. It’s no wonder so few ethics complaints result in violations.
These associations result in labor contracts with excessive compensation and lucrative annual increases. Even a 2% cap is outrageous when income levels are shrinking everywhere else in this economy. The punch line is that current RTEA President, Dave Bishop’s salary is $93,120 (August 25, 2010). It was $83,872 in June 2009, $77,659 in 2008 What raise did you get over the past two years? And Dave lives in Pennsylvania avoiding NJ property tax rates.
Without legal recourse against board members and being unable to force the union president to suffer our tax rates, we can only apply public pressure. I’ll keep writing and other residents should take every opportunity to remind the RTBOE of their obligation to the community. The board and RTEA are currently setting strategy for a contract renewal.