What is the Role of School Boards?

What Are Schools Boards?

There are roughly 50 million students in the United States that attend government-run schools. But, who within the government makes sure that schools are running the way they are supposed to? Every local school district has a board of education that supervises its schools. They are better known as school boards. Out of all of the levels of government, this local group of people directly impacts our communities by shaping our local government-run schools. They hold more power and responsibility than most of us realize, affecting the lives of students and their families every day.

The main role of the school board is to makes sure students attending government-run schools are well educated. However, school board members do not personally run the school. As representatives of the community, they are called to ensure that the schools are serving all their students and families well. Most of their specific responsibilities can be divided into two categories: vision setting and oversight duties.

What Do Schools Boards Do?

In the first category of responsibilities, vision setting, school boards create rules and goals for the school district. They also must enforce laws and test standards from the federal and state governments. The policies they make affect the schools every day. For example, the school board sets the attendance and school discipline rules. They also set the goals for how well students should do academically. On top of that, they help choose the curriculum, make the school calendar, and purchase the textbooks used by students. To implement their rules and reach their goals, the school board hires a superintendent, the head of the school district. The school board’s job is to develop a vision for what the schools should be like. The superintendent’s job is to make that vision a reality.

In the second category of responsibilities, oversight duties, school boards evaluate the schools and superintendent. The superintendent and schools are supposed to meet the goals and follow the rules the school board makes. That does not always happen. When the school board's goals are not met, then the school board has to take further action. For example, a superintendent's job is very important to the school district. He or she is supposed to work closely with the school board and inform them of what is happening in the schools. If a superintendent does not communicate with the school board, then the board has the ability to end the superintendent’s contract and hire someone else.

As part of their oversight duties, school boards also handle the finances of the school district. This involves several tasks. One task is that the school board decides how much to tax the whole community to help pay for the government-run schools. They also create a budget every year for the schools, and they negotiate with teacher unions about teacher salaries. Finally, they are in charge of buying, selling, and taking care of school buildings and other property. Overall, school boards do not run the schools, but they are supposed to make sure the schools are well run.

What Do School Boards Look Like?

School boards are not all identical. They can look very different from school district to school district. For example, the number of members on the school board varies. However, most boards have an odd number of members, usually ranging from three to nine. Many school boards are nonpartisan, elected groups of people, but this is also not true for all boards. There are some boards that are appointed by elected officials on behalf of the community, such as the city mayor, state governor, or a county council.

The eligibility rules for school board members also varies between school districts and states. Generally, candidates must be at least 18 years old, allowed to vote, and living in the school district. Board members come from different backgrounds. There are no degree or experience requirements. A majority of board members are not paid for their service, and most positions are part-time. Term lengths also vary between districts.

Some school boards organize their members so that each person has a different role in the group. One way some boards do this is by having a board president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Boards also sometimes split up into committees to deal with different issues. For example, there might be a committee to make a draft of the budget or one to focus on improving graduation rates. Although boards can be organized in many ways, there is one thing that is consistent. When the board takes a vote to make a decision for the school district, each member has one vote, and, each vote is equally important.                                                     

Elections for school board members are different across the country, too. For example, in Pennsylvania all school board members are elected except in Philadelphia. The school board for the Philadelphia government-run schools are appointed by the mayor. The elections for the school board are held in November of odd-numbered years and are organized by the state. In Iowa, all school boards are elected by their local communities. The elections are also organized by the state, but they are all held on the second Tuesday in September of odd-numbered years. In Michigan, some school board members are elected and some are appointed. The elections are held mostly in May, although school districts are beginning to shift towards holding them in November. Local school districts choose which day to hold elections from a list of dates allowed by the state government.

What Are Common Traits of Good School Boards?

Although school boards are structured differently, good boards share common traits. One of these traits is that they represent diverse institutions within the community, such as parents, business leaders, nonprofit workers, health care workers, and educators. This diverse set of perspectives allows for a more comprehensive ability to approach issues and concerns within the schools and the community. Another trait is that they have a strong vision for their district. They focus on providing every student and family in their community with a good education. These school boards are also good communicators. The members of these school boards collaborate with each other, the superintendent, families, and other citizens. Also, they work well with other types of schools in the community. Finally, while wrestling with decisions the board interacts with citizens. They listen to their concerns and answer their questions.

How Can Citizens Interact With School Boards?

There are several ways to for citizens to interact with the school board. For one, school board meetings are open to the public. These are also often recorded and aired on local stations. Additional meetings, like committee meetings, are open to the public as well. Boards may have different rules for how, but citizens are able to address the board at these meetings. Also, the contact information of board members is often available to the public. Finally, citizens can vote in their local elections. By participating, citizens can help choose either the members of the school board or the officials who appoint members to the board. Good school board candidates work well with others, understand the purpose of the school board, care about all of the issues facing schools, and want to improve government-run schools for all of the students and families in their district.

School boards hold a lot of power. They do not directly run government-run schools, but they are supposed to make sure they are the best they can be. School boards create the vision for the schools, and they hold the people who do run the schools accountable for their results. The polices that school boards make – from the length of the school day, to the rigor of the curriculum used, to how students are disciplined – are important. School board members may not spend every day in the classroom, but their decisions affect the students and their families every day.

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