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The Wrong Kind of Self-Employment: Keeping District Employees off Colorado School Boards

IP-3-2004 (January 2004)
Author: Ben DeGrow

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Executive Summary

Colorado’s state legislators and local education policymakers should clarify the status of public school boards as representatives of the public interest. The law should reflect the fundamental incompatibility of a person simultaneously serving as an elected board member and paid employee for the same school district.

Of the 25 largest school districts in the state, 11 have implemented some sort of stated restrictions on school board membership by its employees. Seven of these districts specifically prevent the board from hiring any board members as employees but allow current employees to take office on the board without resigning their positions. The other four prohibit any employee from serving on the board.

This study examined the current school board membership of Colorado’s 38 largest school districts—those with 3,000 or more students as of the fall 2002 count. Membership on four of these school boards include a district employee, while 16 of these boards have at least one spouse of a district employee.

In the 1973 decision, Haskins v. State ex rel. Harrington, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that there are too many areas of potential conflict for a person to be an employee and a school board member at the same time. This decision reflected the principle of incompatible offices, a principle adopted by America’s Founders.

The Colorado Supreme Court held in Montrose County School District RE-1J v. Lambert (1992) that a school district acted fairly in denying employment to board members but not to members’ spouses. Still, Colorado Revised Statutes do not explicitly prevent district employees from being school board members. Colorado is among a minority of states without any such statutory restriction. The following reforms should be considered:

  • Prohibiting anyone from serving concurrently as an employee and a school district board member for the same district, without exceptions for job classification.
  • Prohibiting the spouses of district employees from school district board service or requiring them to disclose conflicts of interest and to abstain from voting on financial matters directly affecting them and their spouses.