School board trustees: What do they do for a public school district?
Every public school district is governed by a board of trustees, commonly known as the school board. These school board trustees are representative of their community, putting the interests of students’ futures first.
What Is a School Board Trustee?
School board trustee definition: According to Lexico, a school board trustee is “A member of a board of people elected or appointed to promote the interests of a school.”
The board of trustees is a group of citizens from the local community, elected to make decisions about the local public school system based on the community's expectations, goals, and needs. The public chooses school boards of trustees to consider the needs of students and convert them into a vision, policies, and goals that will support student achievement.
School Board Trustee Job Description
No single school board trustee job description exists, but different school boards and teacher associations offer their individual takes on the role. One of the most comprehensive comes from the Alberta Teachers Association, which, among other roles, cites school trustees as advocates, politicians, evaluators, legislators, lobbyists and communicators.
What Does a School Board Trustee Do?
Boards of school trustees fulfill their role through a set of responsibilities. These responsibilities are fundamental to the function of the local school district and can only be accomplished by elected governing officials.
School Board Trustee Duties
Although there is no sole definition of a school board trustee’s duties, several board associations have defined the role, with a degree of overlap between their views.
The California School Boards Association sets out five core school board trustee duties:
- Setting direction
- Establishing an effective and efficient structure
- Providing support
- Ensuring accountability
- Providing community leadership as advocates for children, the school district and public schools
The Texas Association of School Boards provides a similar, although not identical, list of duties:
- Ensure the creation of a vision and goals for the district and evaluate district success
- Adopt policies that inform district actions
- Hire a superintendent to serve as the chief executive officer of the district and evaluate the superintendent’s success
- Approve an annual budget consistent with the district vision
- Communicate the district’s vision and success to the community
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) lists the key responsibilities of a school board trustee as:
- Employing the superintendent
- Developing and adopting policies, curriculum, and the budget
- Overseeing facilities issues
- Adopting collective bargaining agreements
From just these three examples, we can see that school board trustee duties coalesce around some key areas:
- Direction, strategy and goals
- Accountability and responsibility, especially for the superintendent’s appointment and efficacy
- Support and guidance for district action
- Providing a link between the community and the school via communication, advocacy and transparency
School Board Trustee Salary
An August 2022 article published by the National School Boards Association asserts that school board trustees “are being asked to do more than ever before.”
What reward does the average school board trustee receive for this work? NSBA reports that school trustees are “typically volunteers who receive no annual compensation.”
The School Board Trustee Election Process
School board trustees are elected to their roles. This might be via a majority vote (where a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote) or a plurality vote (where a candidate who polls more votes than any other is elected). Local policy will dictate the type of election.
Best Practices for the School Board Trustee
1) Set the Direction for the District Through a Clear Vision and Goals
A successful and efficient school board trustee knows that establishing and implementing strategic plans is necessary to achieve effective governance. The board of trustees for a public school district should form a vision that is reflective of the needs and desires of the local community. Then, they should work to set and accomplish goals that directly support that vision.
Diligent Community, a cloud-based board meeting management system, allows school boards to publish a vision and mission statement for the public through the board’s site. It enables any school board to communicate board resolutions, initiatives, and progress made toward goals.
As a result, Diligent Community facilitates stakeholder and community engagement, saves time for school board trustees, enhances security and provides a reliable way of connecting school board trustees with the communities they serve.
2) Stay Informed Regarding Policies and Governance
Adopting policies and a robust governance model supports the board of trustees in effectively and efficiently carrying out their responsibilities.
School boards of trustees must be aware of the various federal, state and provincial 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. School boards must stay abreast of these policies and regulations and how they may impact the school board’s actions.
The right software will provide the school board trustee with the tools and security to keep board members informed of policies and aligned with governance practices.
Leveraging Diligent Community, boards of trustees can save documents and other materials related to policies, laws, and regulations with the ‘Library’ feature. These materials are all searchable by keyword, which can be extremely helpful for a new member of the board of trustees or the public. Training materials can also be housed and shared with the board of trustee members within Diligent Community.
3) Hire and Evaluate the Superintendent
Boards of trustees can face a lot of pressure and responsibility in hiring a superintendent for 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 district and the broader community.
Boards of trustees should seek out software that can support them as they search for a superintendent, work collaboratively with them, and carry out evaluations. Diligent Community allows the board of trustees to share documents and links related to superintendent searches. These items can be linked to meeting agendas or be made available to the public.
Documents and other related materials involved in the evaluation of a superintendent should be stored in one centralized platform that provides both security and transparency for the public. Superintendents can utilize the goal-tracking feature of Diligent Community to build goals that they can connect to tasks for evaluations. The superintendent can also manage the privacy setting of these goals and use these tools to highlight accomplishments in the evaluation or review the goals with their cabinet.
4) Approve an Annual Budget Aligned with the Vision of the Local School District
Ensuring that the expenses of the public school district are aligned with the goals and vision set by the school board trustees is one of the board's greatest responsibilities. It ensures that the board of trustees is putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to achieving goals and working towards the district's vision.
Utilizing Diligent Community, the board of trustees can share, and store documents and materials related to the budget and expenses. Contracts, proposals, and other pertinent information can all be stored and easily accessed through the portal.
5) Serve as Leaders of the Community and as Advocates for Students, the School District, and Public Schools
Boards of school trustees can be direct reflections of their community and serve to meet the needs and goals of the local school district. Members of the community are considered to be key stakeholders, and stakeholders have a right to know what the yield is on their investment.
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 relevant information can foster trust between the school board trustee and the local community.
Diligent Community supports this level of engagement and support of the public through features that make it easy for boards of trustees to share information. Paperless meeting agendas, articles, meeting details, previous meeting minutes, and other vital information can all be made public on the school board’s site for the community to access.
Boards of trustees of local school districts face difficult decisions and are at the front lines of public criticism. However, serving on the board of trustees can bring great satisfaction and achievement when driving and sharing in the district's successes. As representatives and advocates for their community, board trustees prioritize the interest of their students and the public school system. Through foundational responsibilities tied to governance, policies, budgeting, and more, the board of trustees can establish a culture of support and success within the community.