A conflict of interest is a situation in which an individual has competing interests or loyalties and the situation has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest and professional or public interest.
Charter schools and other public entities can find themselves subject to intense public scrutiny. This requires charter school employees and board members to be especially proactive and take actions to avoid, minimize or mitigate even the appearance of unethical behavior.
In order to stay on the proactive side of MN statute 124E.14, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST and to make decisions that best serve the school, students and the public, employees and board members need to be aware of possible conflicts and need to act in a very transparent manner.
Some examples of an actual or perceived conflict of interest are:
- Use of school resources or influence of school office or employment for private gain or advantage
- Acceptance of money or valuable gift from anyone other than the school in relation to regular official duties
- Employment or financial agreement with a business which has a relationship with the school
It’s important to note that sometimes the perception can be just as damaging as an actual conflict. Charter school board members and staff can be held liable for any damage or self-enrichment caused by conflicts of interest and contracts can be rendered as void.
Employees and board members are not necessarily required to step down if a conflict is identified. There are a few steps that can be taken to mitigate the conflict:
- All employees and board members must disclose conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest
- As a voting board member, recluse yourself from the vote if a relationship interest exists with a vendor
- Regularly review a listing of current vendors the schools uses and talk about any potential conflicts (The BerganKDV charter school team recommends making this an annual practice)
Remember, transparency is key when it comes to conflicts of interest. Be sure everything is documented in the board minutes.
Lastly, make sure your school understands who can serve on charter school boards. Minnesota changed its law in 2009 to restrict who could serve on charter school boards after legislative audits found conflict of interest issues. In Minnesota, charter school boards are elected by school staff and the parents or legal guardians of the children who attend the school. The school’s chief executive can be on the board but is not a voting member. As a reminder, non-teaching staff or contractors with the school may not serve as a voting board member.
Not sure where to start? The Minnesota Department of Education published Guidance on Conflict of Interest for Authorizers and Charter Schools. In addition, BerganKDV has a team of charter school experts who can help you and your administrative team navigate the federal and state financial guidelines to ensure your school is operating in compliance with statutes and as efficiently as possible to make every dollar count to provide the best possible educational environment for your students. Want to learn more about what we can do for you? Start here.