What Does a School Board Member Do?
A school board sets educational goals and establishes policy for the school system based upon state laws and community values. Perhaps the most important responsibility of a school board is to employ a superintendent and treasurer and hold them responsible for managing the schools in accordance with the school board’s policies.
Board members make decisions on a wide range of issues, such as hiring and evaluating a superintendent and treasurer; setting district policy; planning student services; goal-setting and long-range planning; adopting curriculum; establishing budgets; engaging parents; being good fiscal stewards; acting in the best interest of the school district and within the scope of their legal authority; and creating community relations programs. A board member should be a skilled decision-maker; however, decisions are only made by the board as a whole at a public meeting.
Another important part of the board’s work is its public relations role. School board members help build public support and understanding of public education, and lead the public in demanding quality education. The school board serves as a link between schools and the public.
What a school board member doesn’t do
The role and function of board members often are misinterpreted by the public, and in some cases, by board members themselves. The 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 system is managed well by professionals.
Board members are not education professionals. They do not evaluate staff, other than the superintendent and treasurer, nor do they become involved in employment interviews, other than those of the superintendent, business manager and treasurer. Board members may be consulted during the hiring process for other positions, such as assistant superintendent.
A good board member
We often hear that one person is a good board member or another is a bad board member, and yet we seldom hear a clear definition of what constitutes a “good” board member.
In reality, there are about as many philosophical theories about boardmanship as there are board members. However, there are some acceptable guidelines. Members must recognize that seldom do two persons react to the same problem in an identical manner, so flexibility is necessary.
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 school policies.
• Should vote at all times in the best interests of the children 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, rather than spending all its time making reports to an individual board member.
• Is a good listener at board meetings, on the street corner, in the church or anywhere else approached, but never commits himself or herself, the board or the administration.
• Knows that the reputation of the entire school district is reflected in his or her behavior and attitude.
• Supports a board majority decision when it is made.