THE ROLE OF A SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER
Prepared by: Support Our Schools (Re-post from our 2001 School Board Discussion)
With an eye toward helping children learn, candidates run for the school board for many reasons, among them: to advocate for particular issues, to address fiscal issues, or to represent a particular cultural group. Personal agendas go a long way toward defining how an individual elected to the board will approach the job. However, school board members do not have the luxury to work only on issues of concern to them or within their realm of expertise. A school board member must deal with many interrelated issues including but not limited to taxes, budgets, students, teachers, parents, curriculum, government regulations, technology and building construction and management.
In addition, a school board member is both empowered and required by state law to perform specific duties. The most fundamental and inclusive powers and duties of school boards are outlined below. For a complete list of these powers and duties as defined by state law, readers are referred to Minnesota Statutes Chapter 123B (School District Powers and Duties) and Minnesota Statutes Chapter 275 (Taxes, Levy Extension), as well as other chapters.
In the simplest of terms, the school board has authority over the business and management of a school district. As defined by state law, "The care, management, and control of independent districts is vested in a board of directors, to be known as the school board." (Minnesota Statutes 123B.09 Subdivision 1) Further, "The board must have the general charge of the business of the district, the school houses, and the interests of the schools thereof. The board's authority to conduct the business of the district includes implied powers in addition to any specific powers granted by the legislature." (Minnesota Statutes 123B.02; Subdivision 1)
State statutes also describe general duties of the board: "The board must superintend and manage the schools of the district; adopt rules for their organization, government, and instruction; keep registers; and prescribe textbooks and courses of study." (123B.09 Subd.8)
In practical application, these statutes give the school board authority over the business of the district, authority to mange the district's school buildings, administrative buildings and other property, authority over employee relations for the district, and the authority over the district's academic programs.
Recent changes in state law have shifted the bulk of local education funding from property taxes to state generated revenue. However, state law still empowers school boards to raise revenue to run the district by assessing property taxes on commercial/industrial and residential properties within the district.
State law also lists specific dates by which the board must propose and certify its tax levy. The proposed levy must be certified "on or before September 30 (Minnesota Statutes 275.065 Subdivision 1 (b)) The final property tax levy for the coming year must be certified and submitted to county auditor "on or before five working days after December 20 each year." (Minnesota Statutes 275.07 Subdivision 1)
The statutory financial responsibilities of the school board extend beyond the authority to levy taxes. School boards are required to approve an annual budget for the district "prior to July 1 of each year," (Minnesota Statutes 123B.77; Subd. 4) and must publish its budget by October 1. (Minnesota Statutes 123B.10; Subdivision 1)
Hiring the Superintendent
Board members do not make the daily decisions required to operate a school district. The daily operation of a district is the responsibility of the superintendent. By state law, the school board has sole authority to hire the superintendent. (Minnesota Statutes 123B.143; Subdivision 1) Because the superintendent is responsible for the daily operation of the district, the selection of a superintendent is one of the most important statutory functions of the school board.
The School Board and the Administration
The role of the school board is to make district policy, a function comparable to what Congress or a state legislature does. Although the administration (led by the superintendent) reports to the school board, it has a function similar to the executive branch of government. The administration's job is to implement board policy. The administration can also lead by how it develops initiatives and programs that implement board policies.
The St. Paul School Board addressed its relationship with the administration in 1979 when it drafted and adopted a document entitled "Role of A School Board Member" which was revised and readopted in 1984. This document directs board members "to function as a member of a policy-forming body - not as an administrative office or staff member," and "To work with the Superintendent and the staff - not over or around them."
Working with Other Organizations School board members represent the district on a number of committees within the school district and in the wider community of St. Paul. Board members use these positions to provide information about the district as necessary, and to develop perspectives and insights that will make the school board, and subsequently, the district more effective in its mission
The National School Boards Association identifies four key areas where school board members should lead to "ensure excellence and equity in the public schools" which is "pivotal in keeping America free and first among the nations of the world."
Vision. A school board member "envisions the community's education future and then formulates the goals, defines the outcomes and sets the course for the public schools within the larger context of a nation that celebrates its freedom, its racial, ethnic and religious diversity, and its commitment to education excellence and equity for all of its children."
Structure. To reach its vision, "the board establishes a structure and creates an environment designed to insure all students the opportunity to attain their maximum potential through a sound organization framework."
Accountability. "Because the board is accountable to the local community, it causes the continuous assessment of all conditions affecting education . . . monitoring student achievement, placing program corrections into effect as necessary, keeping the public informed of the status of education programs and progress . . . "
Advocacy: The school board also "serves as education's key advocate on behalf of students and their schools in the community in order to advance the community's vision for its school, pursue its goals, encourage progress, energize systemic change, and deal with children as whole persons in a diversified society."
Inspiring Public Confidence
One of the primary functions of any elected official is to inspire public confidence. As elected officials, school board members are among the chief architects in building public confidence in the school district's ability to fulfill its mission successfully. Parents want not just claims, but measurable proof that their children are getting an excellent education that will make them productive adults. Business owners want graduates who are academically and socially prepared to be effective workers. Taxpayers want reassurance that the school district is a good steward of tax dollars.
The St. Paul Board of Education acknowledged the role of board members in building public confidence in its 1984 document "The Role of A School Board Member." The document directed board members "To represent the Board and the School District to the community in a manner that commands public confidence and respect."
Prepared by Support Our Schools, a non-profit organization that supports public education in St. Paul and works for its improvement. Contact the organization at 10 River Park Plaza, St. Paul, MN 55107,