Recently, we’ve received several calls on the OSBA legal hotline about the ability of a board member to serve in different capacities within the community. Being an effective board member requires a combination of skills and traits, and a commitment to the welfare of the educational community. It is these same skills, traits and commitments that make school board members so appealing for service in other roles. However, there are legal restrictions and considerations that may prevent a board member from taking on these additional responsibilities. This blog post will address some of the more frequently asked questions we receive in this area.

Can a board member serve as a coach in the district?
Board members are prohibited under state law from being employed in any manner for compensation by the board of which the person is a member. That law prevents a board member from being employed or compensated by the district as a coach. A board member can volunteer as a coach but cannot receive any kind of compensation for serving in that role. Additionally, any board member who volunteers as a coach in the district cannot participate in matters before the board that affect employees of the district’s athletic department. Check out the April 2019 According to Law column and the Ohio Ethics Commission staff opinion issued in January 2019 for more information.

Can a board member serve as a sports official if the game or match involves the district?
No, if the board member is being compensated by their own district or by a third party (such as ArbiterSports) that receives money from the district for that game or match. The board member would have a financial interest in a contract of the district, which is prohibited by state law.

Can a board member serve as an officer of the PTO or a booster group?
There are no legal prohibitions preventing board members from serving as officers of the PTO or a booster group. However, OSBA encourages board members to consider stepping back from these types of leadership positions. This not only encourages a wider range of community members to actively contribute to the success of the educational community, but also helps the board member avoid confusion over roles or the appearance of impropriety.

Can a board member serve as a member of the levy committee?
State law prohibits board members from using public funds or district resources to influence the outcome of a levy or bond issue. As a result, activities by board members in active support of the levy committee must be done on a board member’s own time and at their own expense. The Auditor of State’s office has issued guidance about what is permitted or prohibited under state law relative to board members’ participation in levy campaign activities. OSBA will also be providing additional information about this topic at its upcoming Levy University workshop on March 22.

Can a board member simultaneously hold another government office or position?
The ability of a board member to simultaneously serve as a school board member and in some other government office or position (e.g. township trustee, mayor, zoning appeals board member, etc.) depends on several different factors. In some cases, there is statutory language that prohibits a public official from serving in another role. For example, Ohio law prohibits a county prosecuting attorney from serving as a school board member. In other cases, the ability of a board member to serve in both positions will depend on whether the person will be subject to an impermissible conflict of interest while serving in the two positions. The Ohio Attorney General has weighed in on several issues of compatibility and has pulled together the Compatibility of Public Offices or Positions index, which serves as an index to the many opinions that have addressed the compatibility of particular public offices or positions. School board members are encouraged to check out the index when considering whether to simultaneously hold another government office or position.

If you have questions about the ability of board members to serve in other capacities within the community, please reach out to OSBA’s Division of Legal Services at 855-OSBA-LAW.

Posted by Sara C. Clark on 2/16/2024