Published On: Tue, Nov 13th, 2018

The responsibility of school boards

StMaartenNews OpinionBy Hilbert Haar

The case of the dismissed guidance counselor Zeynep Sabahoglu by the Foundation for Academic and Vocational Education (FAVE) shows once more how irresponsible the board members of such organizations are when it comes to their responsibilities.

While the court saw no other option than to dissolve the labor contract (based on “changed circumstances” and not on any reason presented by the board) it ordered FAVE to pay the counselor 94,000 guilders gross (around $52,000) in compensation.

According to the 2018 budget, FAVE receives 12,893,092 guilders in subsidies from the government in 2018. That money is earmarked for education, not for financing lawsuits caused by bad decisions from the school board.

On an amount of 12.8 million guilders, a 94,000 guilders pay out may not sound all that impressive – after all, it is just a bit more than 0.7 percent of the total budget – but the fact remains that this money is now not going to benefit the students at the St. Maarten Academy. And trust me, to all of these students, 94,000 guilders is still a hell of a lot of money.

It is not the first time that a subsidized educational institute has been forced by the court to pay a significant amount of money for a wrongful dismissal (NIPA’s dismissal of Vernon Richards is another example that comes to mind). If the way such matters are handled does not change, it won’t be the last time either.

Why is this? Because board members – politically motivated or not – are apparently able to take bad decisions while they never have to pay for the consequences.

Think about it. If you take a bad decision – for instance, you drive a car but you have no insurance – you will be dragged into court and you will get a fine. If you decide to rob a jewelry store – bad decision – and you get caught you will go to jail. But if you are a member of a school board and you don’t know what you are doing, you are able to take bad decisions that are costing the community a truckload of money. You don’t get a fine and you don’t go to jail; you just continue being the same board member, sitting in your ivory tower and doing whatever blows up your skirt.

This cannot continue. Board members must be held personally responsible for taking wrongful decisions at the community’s expense.

If there is a court ruling – like in the Sabahoglu case – that orders such a board to pay compensation – something the board members brought upon themselves by taking a bad decision – they should not be allowed to dig into the subsidy the government, and by extension the community, has made available to them for other purposes. In such cases, the board members ought to pay such compensation from their own pockets.

Why this is currently not common practice baffles me. Making board members personally responsible for the consequences of their decisions would, in my mind, certainly improve the quality of these decisions. It would make board members think twice, instead of blindly following the wishes of their chairman; and it would make sure that scarce subsidy funds are used exclusively for the purpose for which they have been made available.

Maybe a bright legal mind will be able to shed some light on the possibilities to hold board members personally responsible.

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Related stories and report:
FAVE mediation report
Academy school board gets most of the blame for dispute with teachers
FAVE has to pay big for wrongful dismissal guidance counselor