Q: January is board member appreciation month and each of our trustees received a new Apple® watch as a gift from parents in the football booster club. May the trustees keep the watches?
A: No. If a gift exceeds $50 in value, it is unlawful under Texas Penal Code Section 36.08 for a trustee to accept the gift.
It is quite common for board members to receive gifts based on their position as trustees of a public school district, particularly in the month of January. Most often, the gift is simply given as a token of appreciation for the trustees’ public service. Board members should tread carefully, however, prior to accepting a gift and consider both the value, as well as the giver’s motive. The consequences for failing to do so could result in criminal penalties, including jail time.
Texas law prohibits school district trustees from accepting any gift of $50 or more from people within the school district’s jurisdiction. See Tex. Pen. Code §§ 36.08-36.10. This means vendors, employees, parents and generally anyone who is subject to oversight by or who could potentially benefit from a decision made by the trustee. Of course, when a gift is given as a bribe, it should never be accepted, regardless of value. Moreover, cash, gift cards and other negotiable instruments are prohibited regardless of face value. In the above example, it is safe to assume that the referenced item—the Apple® watch, exceeds the fifty-dollar threshold. Therefore, even if the giver’s intent is well-regarded, the trustees must still decline the watches.
Districts should be aware of other rules pertaining to gifts, such as rules prohibiting the use of public funds and gifts received in exchange for a service. For specific or additional questions, please contact your local school attorney.