State ex rel. Ruble v. Bd. of Edn. of Switzerland of Ohio Local School Dist., 2024-Ohio-1542

The Switzerland of Ohio Local School District was sued by four administrators after their contracts were suspended by the Board of Education in July 2021. The Superintendent announced to the Board that he was recommending the suspensions due to the “reorganization and consolidation” of their administrative functions. After giving the administrators the required notice, the recommendation was adopted at the next board meeting listing the “financial condition of the school district” as a basis for the suspension of their contracts.

In a case argued by Ennis Britton’s own Michael Fischer, the Ohio 7th District Court of Appeals upheld the suspension of the administrators’ contracts on April 11, 2024 after determining the school board’s policy did not violate R.C. 3319.171. According to the court, Ohio’s administrative personnel suspension policy was meant to be construed broadly to give school boards the flexibility they need to adjust their administrative staff according to the needs of the school district.

In its decision, the court held that a district’s policy pursuant to R.C. 3319.171 needs to include the following:

  • One or more reasons that the board may consider for suspending any contract,
  • Procedures for determining the order of suspension of contracts, and
  • Provisions requiring a right of restoration for employees whose contracts of employment are suspended.

Additionally, school boards need to consider input from other administrators when developing its administrative personnel suspension policy.

However, the court noted that the statute does not require detailed lists of criteria for suspension, nor does it preclude the board from considering the overall needs and interests of the district when making staffing decisions. While the policy may not have been as detailed as the administrators argued it needed to be, the court noted that as long as the board’s policy meets the minimums established above as well as considering the administrators for other openings for which they may be properly qualified, the district is in compliance with the statute.

It is worth noting that the court suggested that the board’s policy, which was sourced from a third-party provider, may have been invalid for failing to consider the input from other administrators as required by R.C. 3319.171(C). But the court did not review this issue on appeal, since the argument never was properly raised by the administrators.

What does this mean for your district? Administrators do not have the same level of protection as teachers under Ohio law with regard to reductions in force. District policies still are required to meet certain statutory minimums, but R.C. 3319.171 is broadly construed to consider the best interests of the district and give boards of education the flexibility they need to adjust their administrative staff in response to changing circumstances.