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.
Standards of Governance
Alameda's Adopted Governance Standards
- Exercise duties and comply with obligations required by law.
- Act officially only as a board.
- Develop and adopt written policies in all areas of school district governance and operations in order to provide direction to staff and students and information to the community.
- Maintain strong ethical standards. Avoid conflicts of interest between public position and professional career or private life.
- Adopt standards for the conduct of school board meetings and business, including use of agendas, board committees, and community participation.
- Assess board performance regularly. Seek opportunities for board growth and development.
- Test administrative and policy decisions by their potential to have a positive impact on student learning and achievement.
- Develop and share strong expectations for staff and students to use their minds well and to become a community of learners.
- Should promotion to high school require passing a test on the Constitution? This school district thinks so.
- Establish a cooperatively developed, district-wide vision of the purpose of schooling in the community as well as the rules, roles and relationships needed to realize that vision.
- Adopt a strategic plan for implementing the district's vision or mission, incorporating individual school's goals and objectives, indicators of progress, and systems of program evaluation and student performance assessment.
- Collaboratively develop and approve desired learning outcomes, performance standards and plans for shared decision making and site-based planning in support of the district's strategic plan.
Administration and Personnel
- Hire an educational leader to serve as superintendent. Adopt a description of his/her professional duties and provisions for performance evaluation as well as retention or removal from the position based on those evaluations and contractual obligations.
- In order to hire a superintendent, the Board should be agree on the type of leader the district needs. Most Boards do some type of survey to identify skills, expereience and personal characteristics. In fighting and unprofessional Board behavior can lead to constant turnover like in the Alum Rock school district.
Hiring a superintendent in the San Francisco Bay area can be difficult and expensive. Here is a July, 2004 Contra Costa Times article on superintendent pay.
As Superintendent turnover continues to raise, unions may want more say in the hiring process.
- Through the superintendent, retain and support a staff who meet the highest standards of quality and performance.
- Establish and adopt policies regarding staff recruitment, development, evaluation, discipline and termination of employment.
- Set priorities and procedures for negotiating staff and service contracts and ratify contracts as required.
- Provide for a secure and healthful environment for staff and students by means that include assuring quality in facilities and transportation services for students.
- The challenge for school board memebers is balancing safety and fiscal concerns as pointed out in this article about new seat belt law for school buses.
The challenge for school board memebers is balancing safety and common sense as pointed out in this article about planting fruit trees.
- Assess and respond to needs associated with school facilities and equipment and maintenance or upgrading thereof.
- Approve the budget and spending priorities; at the same time, seek to ensure adequate local, state and federal revenues to support the budget.
- Approve construction projects, capital expenditures, contracts and budget reports within a framework of policy and delegated authority suitable for the individual board.
- Systematically link policies and decisions regarding allocation of funds with curriculum, instruction and desired learning outcomes.
School-Community and Governmental Relations
- Engage in activities that promote a positive image for public schools and a public view of school boards as advocates for children.
- When engaging in activities that would be considered political nature, Board member should follow these guidelines.
- Utilize the community as an educational resource and asset through which the quality of learning and breadth of services to children may be enhanced through involvement. Conversely, promote the potential of schools, staff and students to strengthen the economic, civic and social health of the community.
- Develop effective channels of communication with parents and the larger community to inform them regularly of school activities, to promote resolution of problems as close to their point of origin as possible, and to encourage ongoing dialogue about and understanding of issues and policies under board consideration.
- Promote local, state and federal intergovernmental and interagency collaboration to support comprehensive educational support for children, youth and their families.
- Seek to shape and strengthen state and federal educational legislation, regulations and policies by defining and communicating their potential local impact to your elected representatives.
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.