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Ohio State Board of Education selected Steve Dackin as state education chief eight days after learning an ethics inquiry was likely coming, letter shows

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 6/13/2022 Laura Hancock, cleveland.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State Board of Education learned in a May 2 letter from the Ohio Ethics Commission that an inquiry into one of its finalists for superintendent of public instruction was likely.

Yet on May 10, the board selected that candidate, Steve Dackin, as the state’s education chief, a position that leads the Ohio Department of Education, designs model curriculum and administers the testing of 1.7 million children.

Dackin lasted 11 days, before resigning over ethics questions.

Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer obtained the letter in a public records request to the Ohio Ethics Commission that the publication submitted last week.

The commission, under state law, cannot say whether there is an ongoing investigation of Dackin. However, the May 2 letter states that one was likely going to commence.

The Ohio Ethics Commission said in its letter that it had questions after seeing reporting by cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer about Dackin.

Dackin was the former Ohio State Board of Education vice president who led the search for a new state superintendent as the board decided to forgo hiring an outside search firm. Days before the deadline for applications ended March 1, Dackin resigned from the state board and submitted his own application for the job.

Dackin got the position, having received the votes of 14 of 19 board members.

During the hiring process, he was able to see the applications of most of his competitors before applying and attended closed-door State Board of Education meetings during which board members discussed the search process and desired qualities for a new superintendent, according to copies of emails dating back to November cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer received, showing his involvement in the search.

James E. Hood, deputy director and general counsel of the Ohio Ethics Commission, wrote the May 2 letter to Stephanie Siddens, interim superintendent of public instruction, asking her to bring the matter in the letter to the attention of the full board.

“According to a recent report by… Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer, former State Board of Education Vice-President, Steve Dackin, may have participated in the selection process for the vacant State Superintendent of Public Instruction position before resigning from the Board and applying for the position himself,” Hood wrote in the letter.

Hood wrote that he contacted Ohio Department of Education Chief Legal Counsel Anthony E. Palmer Jr. on April 28 and requested any communications provided to cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer regarding this matter as well as “any other documents regarding Mr. Dackin’s involvement in the search for the State Superintendent of Public instruction.”

Palmer called Hood and later that day provided electronic copies of the requested documents.

“After Commission staff has an opportunity to review the information provided by ODE, it is likely the Commission may open an inquiry into this matter,” Hood wrote.

By May 2, when Hood sent the letter, the board had narrowed the list of applicants from 27 down to three. In addition to Dackin, on the short list were Larry R. Hook, superintendent of Springboro Community City School District in Southwest Ohio, and Thomas L. Hosler, superintendent of Perrysburg Exempted Village Schools in Perrysburg, near Toledo.

Dackin, Hook and Hosler each got second interviews with the board, which were conducted in a closed-door session.

On May 10, the following board members voted for Dackin: Board President Charlotte McGuire, Melissa Bedell, Christina Collins, Walter Davis, Sue Hackett, Meryl Johnson, Brandon Kern, Mark Lamoncha, Paul LaRue, Martha Manchester, Tim Miller, Antoinette Miranda, Michelle Newman and Mike Toal.

Members John Hagan, Kirsten Hill, Jenny Kilgore and Brendan Shea voted for Hook.

No members voted for Hosler.


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Member Diana Fessler abstained from voting for any candidate.

Dackin’s first day on the job was May 23. He resigned June 3, saying there had been concerns about his acceptance of the job.

“I don’t want ‘revolving door’ questions to distract from the important work ahead for schools, educators, and especially the children,” he said in his resignation letter.

“Revolving door” is a term the Ohio Ethics Commission uses to describe employment after government service.

“This important provision of the law prevents public servants from misusing their influence in a current job, with a former employer, or with any former employees they had supervised,” the Ethics Commission states on a website about revolving door law. “It helps to ensure that the public is fairly represented in all interactions with the public and private sectors.”

Although Dackin had written to the Ohio Ethics Commission as board vice president about the proper way to handle his application as superintendent, he didn’t fully disclose his leading the superintendent search, emails obtained by cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer showed.

When he resigned he opted to not take any of his $215,000 salary.

State ethics law prohibits board members from accepting compensation and other benefits from an employment contract authorized by a board they served on for one year after they leave the board.

If there were an investigation and the public official resigns, an Ethics Commission official said that an investigation doesn’t necessarily end, but “it might be mitigation that would impact the potential consequences for violating the law.”

The Ohio State Board of Education is meeting Monday and Tuesday this week for its normally scheduled board meeting. It was expected to discuss next steps for a new superintendent.

Board members who voted for Dackin said they were aware of the potential ethics probe, but they thought he was, by and large, the best candidate and they threw their support behind him.

Meryl Johnson, a board member from Cleveland said that she was impressed by Dackin’s work as superintendent of the Reynoldsburg City School District in the Columbus suburbs, when he introduced education strategies and narrowed the education gap between white students and students of color. She thought Ohio students would benefit from Dackin’s experience.

“I don’t want to imply that it wasn’t important,” she said about the letter from the Ethics Commission. “My focus was getting a good state superintendent. So that’s what I kept my eye on. That’s what I was focused on.”

She wants the superintendent search to start afresh, with a search firm leading the process.

Tim Miller, a board member from Akron who voted for Dackin, served under Dackin on the search committee. He said he did not believe Dackin acted unethically and was surprised by the rule that a former board member must wait a year before applying for a job. He said no one informed the board about the one-year rule, which is why he voted for Dackin.

He said that Dackin was well-qualified, having worked as a superintendent, teacher, school administrator, and on workforce development at Columbus State Community College. He even had a stint at the Ohio Department of Education early in his career.

Miller also wants the search to start from scratch with a headhunter hired by the board. A professional may have steered the board away from Dackin, having understood the one-year rule, and will hopefully spot problems with future candidates, he said.

Martha Manchester, a Logan County board member who became vice president after Dackin resigned to apply for the superintendent job, declined to answer why she voted for Dackin, despite having known about the letter.

“I think we have excellent, excellent leadership,” she said, referring to Siddens. “Right now with everything that’s happened, the best thing we can do for the students in the state of Ohio is to take our time.”

She said she didn’t expect the board to make any decisions about how to proceed with choosing a new superintendent during this month’s meeting, which she is running due to McGuire, the board president being out of town. McGuire and other board members who were unable to attend June’s meeting should have a say in how to proceed, too, she said.

John Hagan, a board member from Alliance who supported Hook, the superintendent from Springboro, said he’s concerned that the board didn’t receive a legal opinion about the one-year rule earlier on.

“We could have saved some time and effort here if we had that information in front of us at that point,” he said.

When Hagan learned about the letter, he “argued strongly that this was not a good move,” he said.

Hagan said he’s going to ask the board on Tuesday to make Hook the permanent superintendent. Since board rules require more time to have passed between introducing and voting on a resolution, Hagan will have to try one or two parliamentary maneuvers to get it before the board as an emergency resolution. Then a majority would have to vote for Hook.

Hagan said he doesn’t know if he has the votes to be successful.

Miller said he won’t support Hook because he wants to start the search from scratch. Johnson is opposed to Hook.

“He doesn’t believe in diversity, and equity and inclusion,” she said. “That’s what I’m trying to fight for. We’re trying to make sure that we have people who care about that.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit cleveland.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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