WHAT DO SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS DO?
With all of our county school districts now started for the 2014-15 school year, I thought it would interesting to look at who is legally charged with running our local public schools – the 10 local “school boards” in our county. Actually, the legal name for schools boards in California is either the Governing Board or the Board of Trustees, not “school board”, but that name is certainly what most people know. Also of interest is that the positions on these local Boards are part of the electoral process and every two years some positions on every Board in our county are up for election. This year, 5 of our 10 school districts will have contested seats in the November 4th General Election. The other five districts will seat the incumbents since no one filed to run against them. With this brief background, I’ll spend a few minutes talking about the 4 jobs that I think effective members of local school boards should do. In general, I think school boards should see themselves as “governing” the school district, not running or managing the district. The railroad analogy that I use is the Board should be “laying the track, not driving the engine”.
SET THE DIRECTION FOR THE DISTRICT.
This job can be the adoption of a strategic plan, or a set of priorities for the year, or it can occur in the directions that the Board gives to the Superintendent to carry out. Under the new Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), that I mentioned last week, this is an ideal vehicle to set the direction for the District. The point here is that it is the responsibility of the Board to look at the “big picture” for the District and to think about what skills, attitudes and habits they want the graduates from their schools to have and then be explicit about these in the Plan that they adopt.
PROVIDE THE STRUCTURE AND RESOURCES TO ACCOMPLISH THE MISSION/DIRECTION OF THE DISTRICT.
This usually involves adopting a budget that supports the priorities of the District, as is the case with the new LCAP, when the budget of the District needs to support the priorities set by the Board. Another way that the Board provides the structure to accomplish the District’s mission is by the policies that it adopts to govern the district and by whom they employ as their Superintendent. In fact, the Superintendent is actually the only employ whom the Board hires directly. All other staff (teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, etc.) is hired by the administration although they are employees of the district.
ACCOUNTABILITY FOR RESULTS.
The Board has the ultimate accountability for the progress, or lack of progress, that the district makes in achieving the Board’s direction for the District. Almost all action and deliberation of the Board is done in public and it is incumbent on the Board to have frequent and clear communication with the citizens of the District about how the District is performing. It is through the election process that citizens can become involved and hold the Board accountable.
ADVOCATE FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION AND THE NEEDS OF CHILDEN ANDNYOUTH.
No other public agency has the scope of responsibly for children and youth as do local school boards. In our county, about 34,500 students, ages 5-17 spend a large part of their lives in our schools. If members of local school boards do not advocate for the importance of quality education for all children who will? Increasingly, members of local school boards are joining with other groups, public and non-profit, to also advocate for the health and well-being for children and youth in several areas (health, housing, nutrition, etc.) other than education. Serving on a local school board is a very important job in our democracy. Successful Board members tend to focus on the 4 jobs outlined above instead of getting overly involved in the daily running of the schools.