The board of education is a volunteer representative arm of local government elected by the registered voters of the local public school district. The board governs the school district and serves as a leader and champion for public education in the community. School board members represent the interests of the entire district, not a subgroup or specific area of the district community. Board members come from all walks of life and are as diverse as the communities they serve.
School board service is not to be taken lightly. Individuals need to clearly understand the role of the school board, the time commitment involved and the legal limitations of the school board. The taxpayers of the district entrust the school board to responsibly manage multi-million dollar budgets to provide a quality education for their students.
It is important to understand what it means to be a board member before deciding to be a candidate. In addition to the information in this publication, individuals should attend board meetings to observe the school board in action.
School Board Authority
School boards derive their power and authority from state laws and regulations. The board has the authority to take action only when it is acting as a whole during an official board meeting, i.e. action occurs by majority vote at a public meeting. Individual board members have no authority to provide direction to the superintendent or other staff, change policies or procedures, direct operations of the district or make other individual decisions.
School boards are not responsible for the day-to-day management of the school district. That job is left to the professional educators hired by the school board. The school board delegates district administration and daily operations to the superintendent.
School Board and Superintendent
One of the most important responsibilities of the board is to hire a certified and qualified superintendent to provide district leadership. Through policies and defining the educational goals for the district, the board empowers the superintendent to function as the chief executive officer in managing all district operations. The superintendent serves as the liaison between the board and staff. An effective school board develops and maintains a collaborative relationship with the superintendent to support continuous improvement in the district and views the Board and Superintendent as the district’s “Leadership Team.” The board is also responsible for evaluating the superintendent’s performance based on clear goals, adherence to policy and protection of district assets.
School Board Roles and Responsibilities
In compliance with state and federal laws, school boards adopt policies and rules to serve as guidelines for the general management and administrative actions of the district. Some other key responsibilities include the following.
Clarify District Purpose and Establish Goals
Defining the purpose (mission) and primary goals of the district, with input from the district community and in collaboration with the superintendent, are key responsibilities of the board. District improvement and student learning success do not happen by chance. A clear focus helps district leaders and staff connect their daily work with achieving the district’s purpose and priorities.
Collaborate with the Superintendent & Delegate Authority
The board hires the superintendent and delegates authority to the superintendent to determine how to achieve the district goals, provide leadership to the staff and manage district operations. The board also adopts the school district’s budget.
Monitor District & Superintendent Performance
In the classroom, teachers measure student achievement and improvement throughout the year. Likewise, the school board and superintendent determine how district success will be measured. The systematic use of data informs the board’s decisions and assessment of district and superintendent performance. Further, the board has an obligation to ensure that district funds are being used efficiently and effectively.
Connect with the Community
Effective school boards engage in ongoing two-way communication with the entire district community. It is essential to frequently communicate district priorities and progress toward achieving them. Likewise, it is important to systematically seek input from the community regarding district priorities. District surveys and public forums are examples of ways to obtain input.
The board, collectively and individually, takes full responsibility for board practices. Following policies, working together as a team, valuing and respecting each other’s opinions, and keeping information confidential are just a few of the ways board members demonstrate responsibility and build trust in the community. It is important for board members to support board decisions. Each board member is provided the opportunity to participate in discussions related to the meeting agenda items. Each board member is provided the opportunity to vote. Once the vote has been decided, the entire board should support the decision. This promotes a culture of unity and support for the district.
Effective Board Member Commitment
Board members are expected to:
1. Attend all board meetings
2. Arrive on time for each board meeting and stay for the entire meeting
3. Be informed of district issues by reading the board packet and related policies prior to the board meeting; expect to spend a few hours each month to thoroughly understand the agenda issues
4. Ask questions to clarify information in the board packet prior to the meeting, if possible; follow district policy or procedure by directing questions to the board president or superintendent
5. Keep information from closed sessions confidential
6. Share opinions while listening and respecting the opinion of other board members
7. Make decisions based on evidence rather than personal experience or beliefs
8. Observe nepotism and conflict of interest laws
9. Advocate on behalf of your students, the district and public education within your community and with local, state and federal elected officials.
Responsibilities of a Board Member
With schoolchildren always their ultimate focus, school board members act officially at the board table, working with other board members to serve students and accomplish the following:
- Create a shared vision for the future of education
- Set the direction of the school district to achieve the highest student performance
- Provide rigorous accountability for student achievement results
- Develop a budget and present it to the community, aligning district resources to improve achievement
- Support a healthy school district culture for work and learning
- Create strategic partnerships with the community stakeholders
- Build the district’s progress through continuous improvement
- Adopt and maintain current policies
- Hire and evaluate the superintendent
- Ratify collective bargaining agreements
- Maintain strong ethical standards
The role and function of board members often are misinterpreted by the public. The school board is a policymaking body and members are the chief advisors to the superintendent on community attitudes. Board members do not manage the day-to-day operations of a school district; they see to it that the district is managed well by professional administrators. Individually, they have no more authority than other members of the public.
Board members do not evaluate staff, other than the superintendent, nor do they typically become involved in employment interviews, other than those of the superintendent. Board members may be consulted during the hiring process for other key administrator positions.
A good board member
We often hear that one person is a “good” board member or another is a “bad” board member, yet we seldom hear a clear definition of what constitutes a “good” board member.
There are some acceptable guidelines of what constitutes a “good” board member. Members must also keep in mind that people usually don’t react to the same problem in an identical manner, so understanding of the context of the issue is helpful.
As a start, the following guidelines are offered. A good board member:
- knows that he or she can legally act as a board member only when the board of education is in session. No one person, unless authorized, should speak on behalf of the board.
- avoids administrative decisions or attempts to second-guess the administration. The superintendent is the chief administrator and the board has no administrative function.
- is well acquainted with district policies.
- should vote at all times in the best interests of the school district.
- is flexible and realizes there are times when changes must be made, when tradition cannot be honored and when pressure must be ignored.
- remembers that board business often requires confidentiality, especially in processes involving students, personnel, land acquisition, negotiations, and security.
- is interested in obtaining facts, but also remembers that the administration has responsibility for operating the schools and cannot spend all its time making reports to an individual board member.
- is a good listener at board meetings, in the grocery store, in the community or anywhere else approached, but never commits himself or herself, the board or the administration to any specific action.
- knows that the reputation of the entire school district is reflected in his or her behavior and attitude.
- is able to support a decision when it is made.