Editor's note: The following letter was written by Catherine Kazan. She was elected to a one-year unexpired term on the Wayne Board of Education in November.
To the Editor:
I would like the residents of Wayne and across the State to be aware that due to certain deficiencies in the process for qualifying elected officials to assume office, a large number of officials elected across the State of New Jersey in November will be unable to assume office as scheduled this January.
The statutorily mandated cumbersome process for conducting criminal background checks on elected officials has been compounded by serious inadequacies in the performance of Morpho Trust, the government contractor responsible for taking fingerprints and submitting information relating to the background checks.
This situation affects the voters of Wayne specifically because while I was elected in November to serve as a Board of Education Trustee (BOE), and my term in office begins on January 2, 2013, I will be unable to assume office at the BOE reorganization meeting on that date.
New Jersey statutes set forth the procedure that a newly elected BOE Trustee must follow in order to have the required criminal background check conducted. I have complied with all statutory requirements in a timely manner. Due to errors in the fingerprinting process by Morpho Trust, my fingerprints could not be used by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJ DOE) in conducting that background check, and will have to be retaken.
The procedures specified by the Commissioner of Education that are to be followed in the event that fingerprints are rejected are cumbersome and time-consuming. These procedures do not allow adequate time for the fingerprinting to be redone and background checks to be completed before newly-elected Trustees are scheduled to begin their terms in January.
As of this date, neither the Wayne Board of Education nor I have received official notification from the Department of Education or Morpho Trust. Until official notification is received, my fingerprints cannot be retaken and the background check cannot be completed. Due to the NJ DOE’s failure to follow its own procedures in a timely way, the background check process is stalled. As matters stand now, I will be delayed from assuming my duties as a Board of Education Trustee for an indefinite period of time.
No one disputes that Board of Education Trustees should be required to pass a background check. However, the inadequacies in the current process will have the effect of preventing a duly-elected public official from taking office. The voters of Wayne and elsewhere throughout the State should not be forced to tolerate this subversion of the democratic process.
The Commissioner of Education should remedy this injustice to numerous newly-elected BOE trustees in our State by immediately instructing locals BOEs that trustees may be sworn in and begin serving the public while their criminal background checks are still pending. In the typical case, BOE Trustees have no direct contact with students and no access to public funds. Under these circumstances, allowing them to assume their duties while their criminal background checks are still pending will pose no significant risk to the public.
If you agree and would like to contact the Commissioner of Education, his contact information is as follows:
Chris Cerf, Commissioner
NJ Department of Education
P.O. Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625
I look forward to serving the residents of Wayne as soon as possible as your duly elected Trustee.