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What You Should Know before Making a Public School Donation

Q: What can I donate to a public school?
A:
 Public schools may accept all types of new and used personal property, including classroom supplies, computers, musical instruments, sports equipment, and furniture. Schools may also accept real property and donations of money. Under Ohio law, donations may be made during the donor’s lifetime or through a bequest in the donor’s will. 

Q: Where should I direct the donation?
A: 
Offer your donation, preferably in writing, to the school board governing the public school district of your choice. School boards have the discretion to accept or reject your gift on behalf of the school district. Because school boards typically meet only once or twice per month, it may be more practical for you to contact the district’s treasurer or superintendent, who can inform the board at the next meeting. 

You may also consider making donations to reputable “booster” programs that support particular programs within a particular school or school district. Booster programs are third-party entities that raise funds and often make donations to the school board on behalf of their supporting members. 

To support public schools more generally, you can contact the educational service center (ESC) in your county or multi-county consortium for more information on making a donation.  

Q: Can I make a donation directly to an individual coach, teacher or administrator? 
A:
 Probably not. Ohio’s “supplemental compensation statute” prohibits school district officials and employees, including coaches, teachers, and administrators from accepting any gift in exchange for the performance of his or her official duties. 

A separate statute prohibits school district officials and employees who perform administrative or supervisory functions from accepting a gift of substantial value from a party that is interested in matters before the school or seeking to do business with the school. Students and parents have been identified as parties that are interested in matters before the school. This prohibition applies to all administrators and coaches, and to teachers performing administrative or supervisory functions, such as athletic department heads or athletic directors. 

School district officials and employees may accept de minimis promotional items such an occasional pen or t-shirt, or gifts of nominal value, such as a book that a student might give a teacher for the holidays. However, Ohio law precludes public school employees from accepting most gifts of any real value. 

Q: Can I ask the school board to use my donation in a specific way? 
A:
 Yes, with a caveat. A school board is authorized to accept conditional gifts and to carry out the necessary conditions of acceptance through board action. However, a school board cannot accept a gift if the conditions attached would remove any portion of the public schools from the board’s control. For example, a board would be authorized to accept a monetary gift on the condition that it helps fund a particular program, such as band or sports, as long as the conditions do not also require the board to hire, fire, promote, retain or suspend any particular position or individual within the program. The board must retain control over the district’s personnel matters.   

You also cannot ask the board to do what you would be prohibited from doing directly. For instance, you cannot give $25,000 to the board on the condition that the board must use the money to buy a new car for your favorite elementary school teacher. The board must be able to retain its discretion to use the funds in a way that would best benefit the school district. 

Q: Can I donate my time? 
A:
Yes. Schools use volunteers in various ways, including as tutors, coaches, bus rider assistants, chaperones and speakers. Volunteers may be subject to criminal background checks and fingerprinting, especially if the volunteer position provides unsupervised access to children on a regular basis. 

Q: Is a gift to a school tax-deductible?
A:
Generally, yes. The Internal Revenue Code provides a broad exemption for “educational organizations,” under which most public schools have organized. Organizing as a public charity under this section allows schools to collect tax-deductible contributions from donors. This applies to donations of personal property as well as money. 

Volunteers are not usually able to deduct any amount for the time they spend volunteering, although they may be able to make deductions for mileage, parking or other out-of-pocket expenses associated with volunteering.  

If you intend to include a school gift as a deductible item for tax purposes, you should verify the status of the individual school district or educational service center with its treasurer. Also, you should consult with a tax professional to make sure your specific donation is deductible.

11/20/2013

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Columbus attorney and OSBA Education Law Committee member Mark A. Weiker of Means, Bichimer, Burkholder & Baker Co., LPA. ​​

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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