BPS takes a tough stance on nepotism

Howard Manly | 9/14/2010, 6:54 p.m.

In a decision to avoid continued allegations of nepotism at Madison Park Technical Vocation High School, Boston Public School Superintendent Carol Johnson has transferred two of Headmaster Charles E. McAfee’s three family members to other schools.

Matthew Wilder, a BPS spokesman, defended the decision to allow the third family member, Michelle McAfee, the headmaster’s wife, to stay at the school. Wilder said that is permissible because McAfee didn’t hire her nor does he work as her supervisor. According to Wilder, she was on Madison Park’s staff before McAfee became headmaster six years ago.

Before the two were transferred at the beginning of this school year, McAfee’s son-in-law, Matthew Pearce, worked at Madison Park as a substitute teacher, earning $68,926 per year. Also on the payroll was Pearce’s sister, Alexis, who earned $75,659 per year as a teacher. With McAfee’s annual salary of $131, 608 and his wife’s $93,348 a year, the family was making $369, 541 at the school.

McAfee was unavailable to comment on the transfers. Wilder said the headmaster has sought a school legal advisor to insure future compliance.

The transfers occur at a time when school officials are completing an official survey of the number of family members working throughout the school system in order to answer a request filed last spring by City Councilor Chuck Turner.

“The issue of nepotism cuts both ways in the minds of people,” Turner said. “Some say a person has an opportunity to hire family members and asks if that really is a negative. But these are public employees and they have highly competitive jobs in the public arena.

“As such,” Turner added, “it’s important to have a policy on nepotism because it says to all the people that there is a level playing field and that one applicant will not be given an unfair advantage.”

Turner said that he was particularly concerned about the impact that hiring family members has on teacher morale.

As part of Turner’s request and the BPS ongoing effort to keep its employees aware of the law, school officials distributed last May a copy of the state and city laws on conflict of interest. They also requested all department heads, headmasters and principals report “any and all incidents of family member relationships within their department or schools,” the memo stated.

“In any case,” the memo concluded, “these familial relationships will no longer be tolerated in the Boston public pchools and BPS will take all necessary steps during the hiring process to identify any familial relationships that exist,” the memo stated.

Those laws are clear and state that a city employee “may not hire, fire or supervise members of [their] immediate family.”

Nor can city employees “ever take any type of action on matters that would affect [their] own financial interests or the financial interests of members of [their] immediate family, including spouse, parents siblings, children spouse’s parents, spouse’s siblings and spouse’ children.”

According to the law, prohibited actions include “approving, disapproving, deciding, making recommendations about, investigating, advising, voting, ‘signing off’ on, advocating, or in any way substantially affecting the matter.”

The law also states that city employees “may not take any action regarding salary increases, union negotiations, budget items or other matters which would affect an immediate family member’s financial interests.”

The laws are also clear on the appearance of having a conflict of interest. If a municipal employee acts in a manner that creates an appearance of a conflict, the law states, “it doesn’t mater whether preferential treatment was actually given.”

Though he said he has received numerous complaints on the impact McAfee’s family members have had on teacher morale at Madison Park, Turner said he doesn’t want to single them out and instead focus on the entire school system.

More importantly, Turner explained, he wants to find “constructive ways to solve” any outstanding issues.

“It’s a question of fairness and equity,” Turner said.

It’s also a question of ethical responsibility. “High standards of ethics and conduct ensure that we, as public servants, will carry out our obligations honestly and fairly,” the school memo said.