Though a New Canaan man’s tutoring business need not represent a conflict of interest should he win election to the Board of Education, he likely would be required to recuse himself in specific instances, officials said Monday night.
Steve Eno three years ago launched Teachers Who Tutor, an online service designed to connect qualified tutors with the parents and students seeking them. The Democrat is seeking election to the Board of Ed in a contested race this fall.
Eno himself requested an advisory opinion from the New Canaan Board of Ethics on whether the tutor matchmaking service represents a conflict of interest with respect to his duties if elected.
Board of Ethics Chairman Tucker Clauss noted that the Board of Ed itself is empowered to revise its policies, and if the one regarding tutoring (see below) ever came before the elected body, Eno would need to recuse himself.
Also, in the rare instance that a disciplinary or other personnel matter concerning a teacher who uses the service should come before the Board—say, if the district employee in question appeals a decision made by the administration—then Eno could remedy the potential conflict by recusing himself from related discussions and votes, Clauss said.
Similarly, if a matter involving a student who either found tutoring services through Eno’s company or who has a sibling who did, he would recuse himself from it, Board of Ethics members said during a special meeting held at Town Hall.
“On its face it’s not an actual conflict but could lead to the appearance of a conflict, which would be concern, and there is in fact potential for actual conflict,” Board of Ethics Secretary Tammie Garner said.
The Board of Ethics members present—Clauss, Garner and Steve Simon— cited the personnel policies of the New Canaan Public Schools during the discussion. Under “Conflicts of Interest,” the policy include a note that “Employees will not participate for financial remuneration in outside activities for which their position on the staff is used to sell goods or services to students or their parents.”
However, Clauss noted, an exception is made for tutoring, with restrictions.
Under a policy adopted by the Board of Education last summer, “No staff member may, during the regular school year, tutor a student in any of his or her classes. During the summer, staff may tutor students who have been or will be in their classes. No staff member may privately tutor during the regular work day. Private tutoring may not take place on school property.”
In discussing the potential for conflict, Garner noted that “the current system recognizes the value or need for tutoring—otherwise there would not have been an exception made in the first instance.”
“So there is not a fundamental conflict in having tutoring somehow undermine or question the value of what is being determined as a Board of Education or an educational institution,” Garner said.
With respect to the broader question of whether Eno owning the business itself represents a conflict of interest, Garner said it was important to consider in what specific instance his vote as a Board of Ed member would impact the business.
“The question is whether or not having that as a business somehow interferes with the policy-making and decision making of the Board [of Education] as it relates to what?” she said.
Garner added, “I do not want to discount the notion that perhaps the nature of an individual Board of Education member’s investment or the outcome of that business could somehow be in conflict with the work he is expected to do on behalf of the educational mission for the town.”
Clauss said the tutoring exception in the personnel policies “gets me halfway but not necessarily all way in answering that question.”
One measure the Board of Ethics may consider in issuing its opinion is whether, during his potential tenure on the Board of Ed, Eno would restrict recruitment of New Canaan teachers, Clauss said. Doing so would add the appearance of propriety, he said.
Garner said, “That is part of this. We have already identified that there is no actual conflict. There is the appearance and the potential. So to address both of those you want to do all you can to remove the appearance of impropriety that is not there yet.”
Ultimately, the Board of Ethics decided that it needs more information and that at least one member should speak to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi about the district’s policies prior to finalizing its opinion or voting on the matter. The Board tabled the item for a future meeting, possibly to be held Sept. 23, in hopes of making a decision with enough lead time before Election Day on Nov. 5.