As new school board members prepare to start their term, inevitably the question arises as to when/if it is permissible for former board members to be employed by the district they served. Unlike more familiar situations which involve retired public employees seeking to be re-employed, board members are elected public officials. Public employee retirement systems, such as STRS and SERS, have rules that often make retired employees serve a “waiting period” before being re-employed. The penalty for not waiting the appropriate time is often a reduction in the amount of benefits the retired employee will receive. However, former school board members seeking employment with their district is addressed as an ethics issue, not a retirement system issue. Therefore, the Ohio Ethics Commission is the agency that properly governs this issue.
Specifically, the Ohio Ethics Commission has issued Information Sheet No. 6 that considers this issue: “[t]he law does not prohibit former board members from competing for an employment position with the public agency they formerly served in an open and fair employment process if it is clear that they did not use the position, while on the board, to secure the job, and that the best and most qualified candidate is selected for the job.“ The Information Sheet also provides several examples of restrictions on board members’ seeking employment with their public agency.
While there is no set time limit which applies when a former school board member seeks employment with his/her district, an absolute bar may exist which depends on the former board members’ actions while in office. If that member used the weight of that elected position to somehow secure the job, he/she is prohibited from taking that position, regardless of the time that had lapsed since they were a serving board member. Similarly, for one year after leaving the board, board members cannot accept positions approved by their board while they are members, even if they abstain from the vote. Importantly, the Information Sheet also points out the penalties for violations of the Ethics Laws are criminal and can include fines as well as jail sentences.