School board elections are incredibly important to voters because of the direct impact that these elected officials could have on a family. Given the importance of these elections, it is surprising that one Ohio law disqualifying board of education candidates from serving on the board is not more known and understood.
According to Section 3313.33(B) of the Ohio Revised Code, no school board member shall have, “directly or indirectly, any pecuniary interest in any contract of the board.” What is a pecuniary interest?
In a 2014 Opinion, the Ohio Attorney General defined a “pecuniary interest” as simply an interest involving money. This law is certainly triggered when a school board member owns a company that does business in some capacity with the school district in which they serve. This makes sense.
However, this law also prohibits a school board member from being employed at a company that does business with the school district. In a 1999 Opinion, the Ohio Attorney General determined that a mere employment relationship is enough to trigger this rule. This is the case even if the employee’s specific duties and compensation are not directly linked to the contract with the district. The OAG reasoned that the existence, operation, and staffing level of the employer may be affected by the funds that are received from the school district. Even a pecuniary interest that is “small” and “indistinct” is enough to bar these relationships.
So, what happens when a school board member is simultaneously employed by a company that does business with the school district? In the same 2014 Opinion, the OAG explained that whenever a board member takes action in any matter in which he/she has a pecuniary interest, that action is void. Depending on the nature of the matter, this can have a substantial impact on the school district in which the member is serving.
For this reason, it is imperative that board of education candidates know the law and understand whether it disqualifies them from serving on the board of education.