CEO 00-2 -- March 10, 2000
CODE OF ETHICS; FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE
APPLICABILITY OF CODE OF ETHICS AND FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE LAW TO MEMBERS OF SCHOOL ADVISORY COUNCILS
TO: Mr. Dwayne Mundy, Chairman, Howard Bishop Middle School School Advisory Council (Gainesville)
School advisory councils are "advisory bodies" and, as such, are not subject to the financial disclosure requirements of Section 112.3145, Florida Statutes. The budget for the middle school school advisory council does not exceed one percent of the middle school's total budget or $100,000, and the council's authority does not include the final determination or adjudication of any personal or property right. However, as even members of advisory bodies are considered to be "public officers" under Sections 112.313(1) and 112.3143(1)(a), Florida Statutes, council members are subject to other provisions of the Code of Ethics.
Are members of school advisory councils subject to the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees?
With the exception of the financial disclosure requirement of Section 112.3145, Florida Statutes, your question is answered in the affirmative.
Through your letter of inquiry, we are advised that you serve as Chairman of a school advisory council (SAC) for an Alachua County middle school. You have requested that we revisit CEO 75-139 concerning school advisory committees, in which we concluded that those bodies were not subject to the financial disclosure requirements of Section 112.3145, Florida Statutes, because the definition of "public officer" excluded advisory board members and the duties of the committees did not negate their advisory status.
Section 112.3145(2)(b), Florida Statutes, requires each state or local officer and each specified state employee to file a statement of financial interests no later than July 1 of each year. The term "local officer" is defined in Section 112.3145(1)(a)2 to include:
Any appointed member of a board; commission; authority, including any expressway authority or transportation authority established by general law; community college district board of trustees; or council of any political subdivision of the state, excluding any member of an advisory body. A governmental body with land-planning, zoning, or natural resources responsibilities shall not be considered an advisory body.
The Alachua County School District has promulgated rules to implement the provisions of Section 229.58, Florida Statutes, regarding the establishment of school advisory councils. The statute as well as the District's rules spell out the process whereby council members representing teachers, education support employees, students, and parents are elected by their respective peer groups, with the School District reviewing the final composition of each school's SAC and making additional appointments to achieve proper representation, if necessary.
Even though members of the SAC are elected by their respective peer groups, we are of the view that SAC members are appointed--not elected--to the School Advisory Council. In CEO 80-54, we advised that police and fire department representatives who served on a pension board were appointed local officers pursuant to Section 112.3145(1)(a)2, Florida Statutes, despite the fact that those members were elected by police and fire department personnel. There, we noted that numerous local boards and committees are composed of representatives from various organizations, and the fact that the process of selection is carried out by vote of the membership or designation by the organization does not indicate that the process is not one of appointment. Rather than being based on the manner of appointment, the disclosure law focuses on the function of the committee itself. Having concluded that SAC members are appointed, we next must determine whether they are members of an "advisory body."
Section 112.312(1), Florida Statutes, defines "advisory body" to mean
any board, commission, committee, council, or authority, however selected, whose total budget, appropriations, or authorized expenditures constitute less than 1 percent of the budget of each agency it serves or $100,000, whichever is less, and whose powers, jurisdiction, and authority are solely advisory and do not include the final determination or adjudication of any personal or property rights, duties, or obligations, other than those relating to its internal operations.
In CEO 77-178, we noted that Section 112.312(1) creates a two-part test for determining whether an entity is an "advisory body." The first part of the test relates to the advisory body's total budget, appropriations, or authorized expenditures, while the second part relates to its powers, jurisdiction, and authority. If a council's only non-advisory authority relates to the expenditure of funds, and the amount of funds falls within the statutory limits, then the council would be considered an "advisory body" for purposes of the financial disclosure law.
Applying this test to your situation, information submitted by the school district reveals that the total budget for the middle school for the 1999-2000 school year is $3,641,055. Further, it appears that the amount of school improvement funds which the school advisory council oversees is $32,803 for the 1999-2000 school year. Thus, the first prong of the test is met because the school advisory council's authorized expenditures are less than one percent of the middle school's total budget and are also less than $100,000.
To address the second prong of the test, a more detailed understanding of the school advisory council's authority is necessary. As you point out in correspondence with our staff, legislation in recent years has expanded the role of school advisory councils. With regard to the establishment and duties of school advisory councils, Section 229.58, Florida Statutes, provides in pertinent part:
(a) The school board shall establish an advisory council for each school in the district, and shall develop procedures for the election and appointment of advisory council members. Each school advisory council shall include in its name the words "school advisory council." The school advisory council shall be the sole body responsible for final decisionmaking at the school relating to the implementation of the provisions of ss. 229.591, 229.592, and 230.23(16).  . . . .
(2) DUTIES.--Each advisory council shall perform such functions as are prescribed by regulations of the school board; however, no advisory council shall have any of the powers and duties now reserved by law to the school board. Each school advisory council shall assist in the preparation and evaluation of the school improvement plan required pursuant to s. 230.23(16). By the 1999-2000 academic year, with technical assistance from the Department of Education, each school advisory council shall assist in the preparation of the school's annual budget and plan as required by s. 229.555(1). A portion of funds provided in the annual General Appropriations Act for use by school advisory councils must be used for implementing the school improvement plan. [e.s.]
Pursuant to Section 230.23(16)(f), Florida Statutes, school districts are to provide funds to schools to develop and implement school improvement plans. This provision states further that these funds "shall include those funds appropriated for the purpose of school improvement pursuant to s. 24.121(5)(c)."
Section 24.121, Florida Statutes, describes how revenues from the State lottery will be allocated and spent for public education. Section 24.121(5)(c) provides:
A portion of such net revenues, as determined annually by the Legislature, shall be distributed to each school district and shall be made available to each public school in the district for enhancing school performance through development and implementation of a school improvement plan pursuant to s. 230.23(16). A portion of these moneys, as determined annually in the General Appropriations Act, must be allocated to each school in an equal amount for each student enrolled. These moneys may be expended only on programs or projects selected by the school advisory council or by a parent advisory committee created pursuant to this paragraph. If a school does not have a school advisory council, the district advisory council must appoint a parent advisory committee composed of parents of students enrolled in that school, which committee is representative of the ethnic, racial, and economic community served by the school, to advise the school's principal on the programs or projects to be funded. A principal may not override the recommendations of the school advisory council or the parent advisory committee. These moneys may not be used for capital improvements, nor may they be used for any project or program that has a duration of more than 1 year; however, a school advisory council or parent advisory committee may independently determine that a program or project formerly funded under this paragraph should receive funds in a subsequent year. [e.s.]
These statutory provisions, as well as the administrative rules adopted by the Alachua County School District, indicate that school advisory councils have a substantial amount of authority to develop the required school improvement plan and to direct how certain funds are spent at their school. Notwithstanding these responsibilities, however, the question we must resolve is whether these functions are "solely advisory and do not include the final determination or adjudication of any personal or property rights, duties, or obligations, other than those relating to its internal operations."
We find nothing in the statutes or school district rules that compel the conclusion that a school advisory committee's functions, outside the area of the expenditures of school improvement funds, are not solely advisory. More specifically, Alachua County School District Rule 2.42(1) provides:
The School Board establishes a school advisory council (SAC) in each district school to serve in an advisory capacity to the school principal and in the preparation and evaluation of the school improvement plan required pursuant to Section 230.23(16), Florida Statutes. The term 'advisory' includes inquiring, evaluating, informing, suggesting, and recommending.
(a) The principal shall receive and consider SAC advice; however, the principal remains responsible for making decisions necessary for administering and supervising the school. The principal shall promote communication among parents, staff, parents, and community.
(b) The SAC is the sole body responsible for final decision making at the school relating to school improvement. SACs shall not assume any of the powers or duties now reserved by Florida Statutes for the School Board or its administrative or instructional staff.
School District Rule 2.42(5)(d) reiterates statutory language that requires school improvement funds to be expended only on programs selected by the SAC, and Rule 2.42(6) addresses the process for approving the school improvement plan, with mediation provisions where there is a dispute between the school principal and the SAC, or the school board and the SAC. Thus, while the SAC may specify how school improvement funds are to be spent and develop a school improvement plan, we do not equate these responsibilities with the final determination or adjudication of any personal or property rights, duties, or obligations. Therefore, the second part of the test is met and we conclude that school advisory councils are "advisory bodies" as defined in Section 112.312(1), Florida Statutes.
This conclusion does not diminish the important role that school advisory councils play in Florida's public education process any more than filing financial disclosure would elevate their status. In Goldtrap v. Askew, 334 So.2d 20 (Fla. 1976), the Supreme Court noted:
The disclosure of personal finances to the extent prescribed in Section 112.3145 advances the legitimate interest of the state in preventing the wrongful diversion of governmental authority to private financial gain. The Legislature could reasonably conclude that a holder of public office is most apt to act for the public's good only when any member of the public can see any possible conflicts of interest.
Id., at 22.
Here, there is no suggestion that members of school advisory councils are enriching themselves personally through their approval of funds for school improvement and, given the relatively modest amount of funds involved and the controls in place for their expenditure, this concern seems minimal. Thus, we can see no reason to construe our statutes to conclude that school advisory councils are not "advisory" for purposes of financial disclosure, since to conclude otherwise would require thousands of citizens who serve on these councils to file financial disclosure unnecessarily.
Nevertheless, we also are of the opinion that the standards of conduct provisions of Section 112.313, Florida Statutes, and the prohibitions of Sections 112.3143(3)(a) and (4), Florida Statutes, are applicable to the members of the SAC. In CEO 99-2, we noted that advisory board members are considered to be "public officers" as that term is defined at Sections 112.313(1) and 112.3143(1)(a), Florida Statutes. Consequently, SAC members, like the members of a city's charter school advisory board in CEO 99-2, are subject to the standards of conduct and voting conflict provisions contained in the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees.
Accordingly, we find that school advisory councils are "advisory bodies" for purposes of Section 112.3145, Florida Statutes, and are not subject to filing financial disclosure but are subject to the other provisions of the Code of Ethics that are applicable to "public officers."
ORDERED by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in public session on March 9, 2000 and RENDERED this 10th day of March, 2000.
Peter M. Dunbar