School Boards: What They Are, Responsibilities & Resources to Be Even Better
School boards are the invisible hand behind the success of school districts. Though district residents elect them, most don’t see or understand their hard work. It’s school boards that hire superintendents, guide the vision for the district, make decisions about taxpayer dollars and ultimately see through the priorities residents have for their district.
Individuals that serve on school boards may be parents or former educators, but they can also be district residents passionate about public education. Together, the board has the power to make real change, both in the student experience and in the perception of public education.
Read on to learn more about what a school board is, what their primary roles and responsibilities are, and the resources board members and superintendents can use to serve their schools better.
What Is a School Board?
School board definition: a governing body elected to represent district residents and manage public schools.
Simply put, school boards oversee public schools and represent the interests of those who live within the district. They do this by creating and adopting district policies, hiring the superintendent, overseeing board meetings and taking actions that both serve students and align with the priorities of their district.
It’s important to remember that school board members are elected officials, meaning they have to balance the interests of students and taxpayers — something that can be easier said than done.
What Is the Purpose of the School Board?
The school board’s purpose is to represent their community and advocate for the student experience. They bridge the gap between what taxpayers want for their schools and what students need to have a successful academic experience.
School board members are the people who establish district goals and set the budget (something that’s of high priority to taxpayers), but they must do so in a way that ultimately serves students. This includes evaluating all district education stages from kindergarten to twelfth grade.
What Is the Main Function of the School Board?
The main function of the school board is to improve the performance of their schools; they’re the ones accountable for student success. Since school board members are elected by their communities, they have to ensure success in a way that aligns with taxpayer priorities. While this may sound simple, the roles and responsibilities of the school board are quite varied.
School boards do everything from hiring and collaborating with the superintendent to leading weekly board meetings in which community members can speak on key issues facing schools.
Who Serves on a School Board
Though former educators or parents may seem like obvious choices for who serves on a school board, anyone in the district can run for school board so long as they’re passionate about students and public education.
There are specific requirements a school board candidate must meet — they can’t have a criminal record and must be a resident of the district, among others — but these can vary from state to state and even district to district. As long as a district resident can meet the requirements, they are eligible to run for school board.
Effective school board members are individuals who have the time and resources to dedicate to their district, as well as concrete solutions for the biggest challenges facing the district.
School Board Member Responsibilities
School boards have diverse responsibilities. Even within the board, responsibilities vary since the board president, vice president, secretary and treasurer have unique roles. Above all else, school board members are responsible for establishing the vision and goals for the district. These will be the guiding force for the board, providing a framework with which they can make difficult decisions about their schools.
A critical part of seeing their goals come to fruition is setting a strategic budget, yet another responsibility of the school board. The budget must meet taxpayer expectations and be large enough to meet the many needs of their schools. Boards will also hire and evaluate the superintendent, acting as their community’s representative throughout the hiring process.
No matter the specific activities a school board undertakes, the ultimate role of school board members is to advocate for students and represent their community. This can be a tricky balance, but effective board members will communicate openly with the public while fighting for student success.
Key School Board Duties
1) Establish a Clear Vision and Goals
A successful and efficient board knows that the establishing and implementing of strategic plans is necessary to effective governance. The board should form a vision that is reflective of the needs and desires of the local community. Then, establish and accomplish goals that directly support that vision.
Promoting school board goals is essential when engaging the community in the school board’s work. This can come in the form of speaking to the media about accomplishments or making use of social media and email updates to publicize goal progress. Inviting public feedback on areas for improvement is also a great way to ensure the board can effectively meet the needs of the community.
Establishing the district’s vision and the goal is a significant school board member’s responsibility. The board must capitalize on all resources available to effectively and efficiently accomplish this task.
2) Be Knowledgeable of Policies and Governance Processes
School boards must be aware of the various federal and state laws, regulations, and local policies that can impact the work of the local district. These laws and policies govern the work of the school board. It is imperative that school boards stay abreast of these policies and regulations and how they may impact the school board’s actions.
It is also the school board’s responsibility to draft and publish school board policies that align with state and federal law for their district. Focusing on establishing a governance model that supports the board in effectively and efficiently carrying out their school board member responsibilities is an excellent place to start when developing school board policy.
3) Hire and Evaluate the Superintendent
School boards can face a lot of pressure and responsibility in hiring a superintendent of the public school district. The superintendent effectively serves as the chief executive officer of the local district, carrying out the day-to-day work to accomplish goals and fulfill the vision for the local district. When hiring, board members must consider what the candidates’ qualifications can add to the district and how that complements the school board’s goals. The school board must then take up the task of evaluating the superintendent annually using both the superintendents’ observed strengths and weaknesses and measurable data relating to student attainment.
4) Approve an Annual Budget Aligned With the Vision of the Local School District
Ensuring that the public school district’s expenses are aligned with the goals and vision set by the school board is one of the board’s most significant responsibilities. It ensures that the board is ‘putting their money where their mouth is' when achieving the goals and working towards the district’s vision.
Securely storing and managing contracts, proposals, and other pertinent information is one of the school board’s key responsibilities here. The school board should supervise who sees annual budget information, meaning that anything that should only be accessible by the board would not be available for public viewing.
5) Serve as Leaders of the Community and as Advocates for Students, the School District, and Public Schools
School board members are elected to serve as representatives of their communities. Good board members must be aware of the work and expectations set for them as school board members’ responsibilities are really to the public, to whom they are accountable. Therefore, the school board must maintain open communication with the community.
Establishing a vision and achieving goals to work toward that vision is essential, but so is cultivating trust and transparency by keeping the public informed. Treating the public with respect and maintaining transparency through sharing pertinent information can foster trust and respect between the school board and the local community. Information that may be made available for public viewing includes meeting agendas, articles, meeting details and previous meeting minutes.
Knowing the work required of school board members allows potential candidates to step into the role more accurately and understand the responsibilities.
Some states, like Ohio, offer workshops for potential candidates where veteran board members lead candidates through a program to learn how to become a school board member and to help them better understand the everyday roles and responsibilities of board members. Exploring these opportunities to gain knowledge on your local and state school board member obligations and requirements is a valuable undertaking when considering school board membership.
While these school board members’ responsibilities may seem taxing and burdensome, the reward through community, district, and student successes is worth the effort.
Be a Better Board Member
Representing an entire community isn’t easy. Promoting student success is even more challenging. School districts are already up against tight budgets, and school levies often fail, so the pressure is on for school boards to create opportunities for their schools that both enhance student success and satisfy hard-working taxpayers.
Diligent’s school board resources can help. From campaign strategies to tips for running board meetings, our school board guides demystify school board member roles and responsibilities and offer insights into school boards’ governance that can help them make their mark.