Managing Conflicts of Interest

Site leaders must be, and be seen to be, above reproach.  Schools must examine their own practices with regard to all staff ensuring they have conflict of interest policies in relation to staff appointments, staff controlling funds and making recommendations about contracts, staffing and purchases.  Conflicts of interest mostly occur quite innocently, usually with the intention of stretching the school dollar further and not with any intent to defraud the school.  However, all decisions should be merit based and completely transparent. Always err on the side of caution.  Remember alleged conflict of interest/non disclosures can be referred to a misconduct investigation or even ICAC.  DECD have a conflict of interest declaration form on their intranet. This should always be used by DECD employees who have a real perceived or potential conflict of interest in undertaking their duties and obligations. The form is numbered CO199 and is easily found searching for “conflict of interest declaration form” on learnlink or under working-in-DECD, employment-conditions, staff-wellbeing, declaration-of-a-conflict-of-interest-form.

Conflicts of interest can sometimes be so entrenched in standard school practice that many principals are not even aware that they are engaging in, what could be perceived as, improper behaviour. This can range from sloppy procurement practices, nepotism and accepting gifts and benefits.

School suppliers like to thank leaders for their custom by way of gifts, invitations or other school benefits.  Likewise, those seeking school business can spread their generosity in order to generate a favourable outcome.  Leaders need to distance themselves from these practices as they present as a clear conflict of interest.  If gifts or invitations are presented to the school it is expected that these items are raffled or sold in some way to benefit the school as a whole.  All items should go to the Governing Council to be used to raise funds for the school. If you are unsure, quite simply refuse the gift. In the new era of ICAC there are very clear expectations that personally accepting gifts and benefits is a breach of protocol and presents a clear conflict of interest.

Favouring relatives or friends for any employment positions, ranging from teaching staff, cleaners, tradespeople or tendering for school contracts is a clear case of nepotism. This does not mean that relatives or friends can never be employed as this proves problematic in rural and remote communities, but strict processes must be followed to ensure transparency. Firstly, ensure you contact SASSLA to seek legal advice on how to best handle your situation as there are circumstances where a conflict of interest can still be considered even if the principal does not sit on the selection panel. Always declare your conflict of interest on the DECD declaration form no matter how trivial the matter may be.

Think about how you can distance yourself from the situation and keep your methods transparent. For instance, you may have a school bus that you also hire out to the local community. If a group that you have interest in wants to hire the bus then get your business manager or someone else to manage this task.  Always ensure you keep a paper trail via email in respect to the booking to acknowledge your awareness and separation from the task and of course complete the DECD conflict of interest declaration form. Document possible conflicts and advise your Education Director.

 

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From time to time Principals and leaders alike can be presented with challenges or matters within education which can only be resolved with legal advice and/or representation. I was fortunate enough to be a member of SASSLA when I needed legal representation. The SASSLA team not only helped with providing me access to their legal advisors; they also made regular contact with me, providing much needed moral support and professional advice. Thanks SASSLA