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Charter conflict?
School board seeks ruling on member's outside employment
(Published May 30, 2005)

By STEPHANIE BRINSON
Staff Writer

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has been asked to decide whether a Board of Education member's new job working for a local charter school organization poses a conflict of interest with his official duties.

School board Executive Director Russell Smith submitted the written request this month to the elections board on behalf of Jeff Smith, who was elected last fall to represent District I (Wards 1 and 2). Smith, in his first term on the board, is working as an independent contractor for the two-year-old D.C. Public Charter School Association.

Jeff Smith, who is not related to Russell Smith, could not be reached for comment.

The school board's executive director said the board member asserted that he received the job based on his prior experience working as an attorney and not because of his elected position. Under the D.C. Code, elected officials are prohibited from accepting bribes or using their positions for financial gain for themselves, their family members or their businesses.

The District I school board member has been working for the charter school association since receiving clearance from the Office of Campaign Finance in April, said the organization's executive director, Ariana Quinones.

Under the $2,000 contract with the organization, Smith is expected to help the nonprofit organization's member schools receive Medicaid reimbursement for special education services they provide to students.

The D.C. Board of Education serves as a chartering authority in the District and currently oversees 16 public charter schools. Eight of the 19 schools that are members of the charter school association are overseen by the Board of Education on which Smith serves.

The District's director of campaign finance, Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, concluded on April 15 that there was "no evidence" that Smith's employment with the organization "would present a conflict of interest" or violate terms associated with his official duties as a school board member.

"Additionally, there does not appear to be any indication that Mr. Smith's official actions or judgment could be influenced by his employment," she said. "Nor does it appear that in the discharge of his official duties Mr. Smith will be required to take actions that will directly or indirectly affect any financial interest linked to his contract."

Smith would be required by law to recuse himself, however, if a matter is brought before the school board involving the charter school association or its member schools "where there is a direct and predictable effect on his financial interest or that of PCSA," Collier-Montgomery stated.

Smith is not the first Board of Education member whose full-time employment related to charter schools has raised questions. District II (Wards 3 and 4) representative Victor Reinoso, also elected last year, works for the Federal City Council, which promotes public charter schools in the District. Reinoso told The Common Denominator before he was elected last year that he would recuse himself from a vote if he felt it posed a conflict of interest with his full-time job.

The Board of Elections is currently soliciting written public comments on Smith's request and is expected to make a decision in June.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator