What Does a School Board Do?
By Trina Pruitt, parent and Go Public contributor
January is School Board Recognition Month and social media is flooded with school staff, teachers, and parents posting appreciation for their local school board. I’ve seen elementary students making thank you cards and high school students creating posters showing gratitude for their school district’s board of trustees. Community members and local businesses attend school board meetings in acknowledgment of their trustees’ dedication. However, I’ve often heard people ask, “What does a school board do?”
As I perused Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts, I realized that I honestly don’t know what a school board does. I’m a little embarrassed that I don’t know much about the purpose of school boards. However, I do know they are involved in my children’s education on many levels. I regularly vote for trustees in elections, but I vote with very little information about the candidates. I rely simply on campaign signs or word-of-mouth mentions in the neighborhood. I began asking around and found that most parents feel the same way. We really don’t know much about the role school boards play and the people that make decisions about our children’s educational paths. After some research, I found some interesting information that helped me gain a better understanding of what a school board does. Armed with this information in the next school board election, I can delve deeper into the people running when it comes time to vote.
What are school board trustees?
Every public school district is governed by a local school board, elected by members of their community. The board members, or trustees, represent their constituents’ diverse opinions and values, and they are residents of the school district they serve. They are not required to have experience in education, so they can be local members of the community like doctors, real estate agents, bus drivers, professors, business owners, unemployed individuals, and parents.
So what does a school board do?
School boards serve the community in a variety of ways. The board is the voice of the community regarding decisions about the schools in the district. Board members listen to the ideas of the people in the community, school staff, and students, and they include those ideas in setting district goals. They advocate for their school district and schools, by speaking up for them to the superintendent and local officials.
The members, or trustees, in charge of many basic duties while governing the district. They hire and evaluate the superintendent and approve and monitor district policies and budgets. They meet regularly to review the district’s accountability for performance and student achievement, and they collectively ensure that the district adheres to state standards.
Decisions regarding the district are made at public, open school board meetings by majority vote. Parents and community members are encouraged to attend board meetings, and they are welcome to speak to the board for consideration on any district topic or issue of concern. Ultimately the purpose of the meetings is always to make policy with the best interest of all students in mind.
What is the role of a school board member?
Members, also called Trustees, work to:
- Adopt shared visions and goals for their district.
- Create and monitor systems and processes to accomplish the district’s goals.
- Ensure progress and accountability to goals with resources, support, feedback, and progress measures.
- Advocate on behalf of all students.
- Collaborate with fellow board members and the superintendent.
School Board Responsibilities
A school board’s major responsibility is to serve as an advocate for public schools. The main duties of the board include a system of checks and balances in order to best represent the schools and the opinions of the community and district staff.
What a School Board Can and Cannot Do
Adopt goals and monitor success.
A school board adopts the district’s vision and goals based on community and administration input. The adopted goals establish the board’s priority to move districts in the communities’ desired directions. The board, however, does not create or adopt a curriculum.
Adopt policies and review for effectiveness.
The school board creates a district’s local policies. However, the adopted policies must adhere to federal and state laws and regulations. Boards determine what to do while the administration determines how to do it.
Hire and evaluate the superintendent.
The school board hires the superintendent and ensures that the superintendent executes the board’s policies. The board does not hire other district staff. The superintendent answers to the board, while the staff and faculty answer to the superintendent.
Adopt a budget and set a tax rate.
While the superintendent and district staff create and propose the district budget, the school board reviews and approves the budget, The board then sets a tax rate in order to fund the budget. The board cannot purchase items for the schools directly, but it can ensure that schools are following the approved budget.
Communicate with the community.
School board trustees build community support and report district progress by communicating with the community, students, staff, and parents. Effective board members represent the interests of the schools, not their own personal interests or opinions.
Dave Rosenthal, Ft Bend ISD Board of Trustees President, explains to young Fort Bend students what it’s like to be a board member.
How are school board members elected?
School board trustees are elected by popular vote.
Texans for Strong Public Schools explains, “Voting connects the individual citizen to the school in a direct and intimate way and gives the voters an opportunity to express their support or discontent for the school program.”
When are school board members elected?
School board elections are held on the first Saturday in May or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Special elections to fill vacancies may be held as appropriate between elections.
Do trustees get paid?
Trustees are unpaid and the job and efforts are not always easy. Board members volunteer a significant amount of their free time by attending meetings, participating in continuing education training and professional development, researching district policy and data, communicating with constituents, and representing the district at community events. Trustees face difficult choices, self-sacrifice, and exposure to public criticism. However, their efforts also bring personal satisfaction in sharing the district’s academic successes with students, parents, and staff.
What about charter schools?
There are significant differences between traditional public school boards and charter school boards. The boards of independent school districts (ISDs) are locally elected, while the boards of charter schools are typically appointed.
Charter schools are privately managed, taxpayer-funded schools, and are exempt from some rules and regulations that apply to other public schools receiving taxpayer dollars.
School boards and ISDs are an open book. They make available their financials, demographics, and other data. I learned this is different from charter schools. Charters don’t have to comply with the same levels of accountability and transparency, even though they receive taxpayer dollars.
In terms of accountability, traditional independent school districts in Texas adhere strictly to standards set by the State Board of Education, while charter schools are bound to what is outlined in their charter. The charter is drawn up by a group or entity like teachers, parents, local government, for-profit or non-profit organizations, private businesses, etc.
In both instances, the school board oversees the management of the district or charter school and ensures that the superintendent effectively monitors district policy and operations.
At the end of the day, our school board members are responsible for the success or failure of our local public education through the policies they make. They are community volunteers tasked with making valuable decisions regarding our children’s education. Although showing appreciation should be a year-round process, School Board Recognition Month assures that these important people receive the thanks they deserve.
Now that I (and hopefully you) have a better understanding of what our trustees do, I am inspired to play a part this month in celebrating our hard-working school board.
I am challenging myself to pay more attention to my district’s current issues and to attend a board meeting to see the process in action. I invite you to do the same and join me in becoming more involved and invested in our children’s education!
Go Public Community Thought Leaders
Clear Creek ISD is a recognized district of academic excellence, curricular and instructional innovation, community engagement, and exceptional governance and leadership. Members of the Association of Former Board Trustees donate their time to support the district’s student growth and celebrate the district’s successes by authoring white papers.
The former board members answer questions from the community on important topics around public education. Contributors include Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Dee Scott, Win Weber, Page Rander, and Jennifer Broddle.
The CCISD trustees comment on popular topics regarding school boards in these informative articles:
Northside ISD Trustee Bobby Blount captures the history and important facts about each of the 19 San Antonio area ISDs in his book, Public Education in the San Antonio Area. Blount’s book, published by the Bexar County School Boards Coalition, includes stories from the surrounding school districts and the actions they took at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Texas.