On Being a School Board Member

A school board can be defined as a corporate entity with duties and mandates prescribed by law, but its leadership stems from a commitment to governance principles, commitments to children, learning and the community. Public education nurtures the roots of democracy. Thus, it preserves the future of our nation. In every aspect of their roles and responsibilities, school boards should seek to translate the mission of democracy into actions and policies excellent and equitable opportunities for learning. reflective of children's needs and circumstances, the desires of the community. In California, we have taken a different path to solving the challenges of public education.

While a board member campaigns (2004 campaign coverage) as an individual with their own views, once elected they become a member of the district's education team. A board's decision-making authority is vested in the board of education as a corporate, not in the individual board member. He or she must remember that the superintendent is also a member of the team and must be able and willing to work with all the team members.

A board member has no power as an individual. California Education Code provides power only to the board acting as a whole in a public meeting. That public meeting must be the definitions contained in the Brown Act. Individual members' opinions on board matters can and should be defended vigorously, but once the board has made a decision as a unit, its members should accept it gracefully and help implement it wholeheartedly. No individual board member may bind the board of education to a particular course of action.

Effective board members establish good working relationships with the superintendent of schools. Although it has been said frequently that the board makes policy and the superintendent administers it, the line between policy and administration is often blurred. The board should refrain from becoming involved in the day-to-day operation of the school, but it should follow up on the administration and operation of the school and require periodic reports for purposes of evaluation.

Perhaps the most important work a board member can do is to help build the community's support and understanding of public education. This means serving as a link between the school and the public and interpreting the schools to the public and the public to the schools. To serve as a link, board members should actively monitor the ongoing discussions of the future of public education. Members also can help establish a climate for change when change is necessary.

With the increasing pressure from state and federal government for accountability, the future existence of school boards can be questioned. Here are two points of view. In addition, you can read why school boards matters.

Serving as a school board member or city council member is considered the toughest job as an elected official. Since board members and council members conduct public meetings in the same town they live, the heat of the public spotlight can be intense on controversial issues like closing schools or parks. For their service they receive nominal pay in Alameda. Other locales like San Francisco, are considering raising the pay of its board members.

Board Roles

Standards of Governance

Alameda's Adopted Governance Standards

Educational Program

Administration and Personnel

Fiscal Management

School-Community and Governmental Relations

Board Member Qualifications

A board member should have a broad background of experience and knowledge or be ready, willing and able to learn quickly. Intelligence, awareness and sensitivity will see him or her through the intricacies of such issues as school finance, student-employee-community relationships and curriculum. A board member must understand simplistic approaches will not meet the complex challenges imposed by the demands of contemporary education.

A board member must be motivated by a sincere desire to serve the community rather than to achieve personal glory or carry out a personal vendetta. Board members must invest many hours in discharging their duties.

A board member must be able to provide today's kind of education for today's children. He or she must understand the forces of change in society and foresee their potential effects on the district.

Tolerant and free of prejudice, a board member must be responsive to the human needs of individuals and groups. He or she must bear in mind that, as a state official, his or her responsibility is to all the state's children.

A board member should be able to defend his or her board's philosophy and goals and withstand the criticism that will inevitably come from people with opposing views. He or she will not confuse a few noisy voices in the community with consensus.


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Last modified: January, 2014

Disclaimer: This website is the sole responsibility of Mike McMahon. It does not represent any official opinions, statement of facts or positions of the Alameda Unified School District. Its sole purpose is to disseminate information to interested individuals in the Alameda community.


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