COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio is left without a state superintendent of public instruction following Steve Dackin's tumultuous hiring-then-resigning.
With only a few months before the school year begins, and while more and more laws are being introduced and considered in the Statehouse regarding primary and secondary education, the shuffle inside the Department of Education has left questions on how ethical the job search was to begin with.
"There are some battles going on about what kind of materials kids should see and what is the best kind of information they should get," Catherine Turcer, spokesperson for Common Cause Ohio, said.
His controversial hiring foreshadowed his sudden resignation, Turcer added.
"I'm not surprised that Mr. Dackin decided he needed to leave the position," she said. "It's fraught with questions about the suitability of his candidacy."
Dackin sat on the Board of Education prior to his February resignation to apply for the superintendent role.
"He uses his time during while he was [on the board] to actually figure out what is it we need and come up with all of the kinds of job search requirements," she said. "Then we get to February at the very end of all of that planning, and he quickly resigns and puts in his own application at the last minute."
The Ethics Commission is prohibited by law from telling if there is an active investigation, so News 5 brought the concerns to Daniel Jaffe, Case Western Reserve University law professor.
"You are prohibited from using the influence of your position to secure employment for yourself," Jaffe said. "Whether there's an actual violation depends on what happened."
Dackin resigned in a letter to the Ohio Board of Education Friday, citing "concerns have been raised" about his acceptance of the position, and how he doesn't want "'revolving door' questions to distract from the important work ahead for schools, educators, and especially children."
A "revolving door" is typically a term used when talking about someone taking a position where they are trying to lobby the public entity that they are a member of, according to the professor. It wasn't used in the right context, he added.
"I'm not sure that revolving door is the right term for what the concerns are here," he said. "I think the concern is more whether he might have used the influence of his position to gain that role, and again, just to be clear, it's the fact-specific situation. I haven't seen any reported facts that tell us one way or the other."
Documents first obtained by Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer and later received by News 5 show that Dackin reached out to the state Ethics Commission in late February, addressing a potential conflict of interest.
“Should I resign my state board position before I submit my application or wait to see if I’m offered the position?” the former superintendent asked.
The commission responded with more information and a short statement saying he “should resign prior to taking any action to apply for this position.”
News 5 reached out to Dackin but did not hear back. The Board of Education responded to an email and stated that Dr. Stephanie Siddens was appointed the interim superintendent by State Board President Charlotte McGuire.
"The full board will vote on her appointment at its June meeting," spokesperson Lacey Snoke said. "They also will discuss next steps for the superintendent search."
Dackin had only been in office since May 23, she added.
"I am confident that together we will continue the important work in support of Ohio’s children, families and future," Board of Education President Charlotte McGuire said in a press release Friday.
The superintendent "plays a vital role in ensuring every student, regardless of where they’re from or what they look like, can have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed," the Ohio Education Association (OEA) said to News 5.
"Whoever is ultimately chosen as the next education chief must ensure that Ohio’s educators continue to have a voice in the decisions that impact their ability to serve their students every day," Scott DiMauro, OEA president, said. "OEA looks forward to working collaboratively with Interim Superintendent Siddens again and with the new permanent state superintendent when that person is appointed to the position.”
If Dackin, or anyone, committed an ethics violation, which is a first-degree misdemeanor, he could be fined up to $1,000 per crime and/or six months in jail, according to Paul Nick, executive director of Ohio Ethics Commission.
The former Superintendent wrote in his resignation that he will not be taking any compensation for his month in the role.
"What he may be trying to do is make it so that to the extent that somebody thinks that he might have used his position to gain this employment, whether he's is trying to make it so that he doesn't gain anything of value from it by declining the compensation and the legal effect of that, I don't know," Jaffe said.
Now it is time to get moving, Turcer said.
"We want to ensure that Ohioans have the best candidates and that board members are not using their associations there to benefit themselves financially."
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