Democrats called for the resignation of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut last week, after it was revealed that he had donated $1,000 to help the Croydon School Board fight a lawsuit against the Department of Education — which he now heads.
The Croydon School Board has been defending itself in a lawsuit brought by the state Department of Education seeking to block the board’s practice of sending children to private schools using taxpayer money, according to reports in the Valley News.
Croydon’s school system runs from Kindergarten through fourth grad, and after that, students are tuitioned to other schools. A small number, have been attending a private Montessori School in Newport.
The lawsuit has been stayed pending legislation that would allow towns to send children to private school for grades not offered in their own public school systems, reports the Valley News. Edelblut, as a state representative, was involved with sponsoring an earlier version of the bill, that was eventually vetoed by then-Governor Maggie Hassan. Governor Chris Sununu has said that he will give the bill a warmer welcome when it reaches his desk.
The chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Ray Buckley, has called for Edelblut’s resignation, citing the donation as a conflict of interest. Edelblut’s supporters and some Republican legislators have backed him, however, saying that donations made before his appointment don’t constitute a general conflict of interest, although Joe Kenney, a Republican executive councilor whose district includes Croydon, told the Valley News that moving forward, it would probably be appropriate for Edelblut to recuse himself from anything involving the case going forward.
This is not the only potential conflict of interest Democrats have pointed to in the last week related to the Croydon School District.
Records obtained through a right-to-know request by the Valley News show Edelblut and a member of the Croydon School Board conversing, most recently about the board member’s husband applying for a job within the Education Department.
Unlike the donation, which happened prior to Edelblut being tapped for his position, these communication continued after Edelblut’s appointment, reports the Valley News.
A string of emails from earlier this month indicates that he forwarded a government job listing to Jody Underwood, a former chairwoman of the Croydon School Board who still sits on the panel, and then passed an application from her husband, Ian Underwood, to a Department of Education human resources administrator.
According to emails obtained by the right-to-know request, Edelblut wrote to Jody Underwood on March 11: “I believe the open positions have been posted, but that might be for internal applicants (they get first crack) only.” Edelblut further promised to forward Ian Underwood’s application to the human resources department. “I think after a period of a week or two then the posting is opened to outside applicants.”
Edelblut declined to comment on the matter during a telephone interview with the Valley News on Friday, citing department policy not to discuss personnel matters.
He noted, however, that the department puts to the side any external applications it may receive while internal applicants are still being considered.
Edelblut told the Valley News that he knew the Underwoods, and that Ian Underwood was a friend, but denied that there was any “quid pro quo” activity involved in passing along his application.