The search for a new head of Ohio’s public education system is underway. Again.
And questions remain about why Steve Dackin, the man hired to be the new state superintendent, resigned about two weeks into his tenure.
“I will say that it seems bizarre,” Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said. “Maybe that’s too strong of a word, but whatever the problem was, if it was an ethics problem, that wasn’t made clear.”
Here’s what we know:
‘Revolving door’ questions
On May 10 the Ohio State Board of Education selected Dackin as the new head of public instruction for K-12 children.
Education groups and state lawmakers praised the pick, citing Dackin’s 40-year record in public education as a teacher, district superintendent and state school board member.
But that final credential appears to have led to his resignation.
Dackin led the search for the state superintendent job for months. He even resigned from Columbus State Community College to focus on the search.
Then, a few days before the application window closed, Dackin resigned from the board and submitted his own application. This raised some eyebrows at the time because Dackin had attended closed-door meetings about the job and potentially seen his competitors’ applications.
But his supporters, including Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, dismissed the idea that anything untoward occurred.
“He resigned when he realized he wanted to go for the appointment, which was prior to the selection process,” Brenner said in May.
The board picked Dackin and two other men as finalists, Springboro Community City School District Superintendent Larry Hook and Perrysburg Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Thomas Hosler.
A final vote by the full state board was set for May 10.
Eight days before that meeting, the Ohio Ethics Commission emailed a letter to the interim state superintendent, Stephanie Siddens, saying Dackin “may have participated in the selection process” and “it is likely the commission may open an inquiry into this matter.”
That email was forwarded to the state board on May 3, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Despite that, the board voted 14-4 for Dackin, and he started his new job on May 23.
Dackin jumped right in, taking meetings with lawmakers such as Huffman and education groups.
At no point did Huffman or others get the impression Dackin would resign. But that’s what happened on June 3.
“Concerns have been raised about my recent acceptance of the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction,” Dackin wrote. “I don’t want ‘revolving door’ questions to distract from the important work ahead for schools, educators and especially children.”
He also said he wouldn’t accept payment for the days he worked – a loss of about $ 8,200.
Board Member Christina Collins said she couldn’t discuss Dackin’s resignation but was disappointed to see him go.
“Steve was the best candidate with a proven record of closing achievement gaps,” she said. “His resignation is a loss for education in Ohio.”
Collins and her fellow board members voted to re-appoint Siddens as interim superintendent on June 14.
How clear were the concerns?
The four board of education members who voted against Dackin’s appointment cited ideological preferences for a more conservative candidate. They didn’t raise ethical questions during that May 10th meeting.
And Huffman wondered whether the ethics commission clearly conveyed its concerns.
“It couldn’t have been too clear if a bunch of smart people on the state school board said we were going ahead with this,” Huffman said. “I think there needs to be some sort of explanation publicly by the ethics commission as to how you could say this and a group of fair-minded, intelligent people who then said we can still go ahead with our choice.”
During its Tuesday meeting, Board Member Paul LaRue appeared to express some remorse.
“We rushed it,” he said. “We shouldn’t have.”
What happens next?
Siddens will act as an interim state superintendent as the board begins another search over the objections of several members.
Board Member John Hagan proposed skipping that process and going with Hook, the runner-up. Hook received four votes (which included Hagan) for state superintendent on May 10.
Hagan asked why they should start over when Hook had already been vetted.
The board rejected his emergency resolution 10-7.
“We really look stupid,” Board Member Kristen Hill said. “We couldn’t get this done in a year, and we’re still going to go at it some more.”
Anna Staver is a reporter with the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau. It serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Inquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.