What is a School Board?
School boards are units of local government, empowered to set policy within the framework of the statutes enacted by the General Assembly. School boards set policy for administrators to carry out, participate in long-range planning and evaluate the results.
School Board Organization
Officers of a school board are president, vice president, treasurer and secretary: The board may employ a solicitor, establish responsibilities and fix a salary. By law, all school boards organize during the first week of December. At this meeting, a president and a vice president are elected to serve one-year terms of office. A treasurer, however, is elected in May to serve a one-year term that begins the first day of July. Every fourth May, the board elects a school board secretary whose term of office is four years.
The school fiscal calendar for the majority of public school districts is July I-June 30. Districts of the first, first class A and second class may, by majority vote, establish a fiscal year to coincide with the calendar year.
School Board Responsibilities
Among other duties, Pennsylvania school boards are required to:
- Adopt courses of study in consultation with the superintendent.
- Establish the length of the school term, adopt textbooks, and adopt the annual budget. Elect superintendents and hire necessary employees.
- Enter into written contracts with professional employees and into collective bargaining agreements.
- Levy taxes.
- Provide necessary grounds and school buildings.
- Prescribe, adopt and enforce reasonable rules and regulations regarding school activities, publications and organizations.
Boards also are permitted to:
- Elect and appoint assistant superintendents.
- Appoint a solicitor and other board employees. Sell unneeded lands and buildings.
- Provide for food or milk for undernourished and poor children. Create or increase indebtedness within certain limitations.
- Authorize attendance of board members or of the superintendent or other employees at educational meetings, and pay necessary expenses.
- Enter into group insurance contracts.
- Discharge a professional employee under certain conditions after a hearing.
- Suspend or expel pupils from school under certain conditions, or cause them to be brought to juvenile court.
Provide free transportation of public and nonpublic pupils under certain circumstances.
School boards may not:
- Permit a child to attend school without proper immunizations. Require religious or political tests of an officer or employee.
- Demand, request or accept a gift from a teacher or supervisor.
- Refuse accommodation or make distinction in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and the high schools, to a pupil because of race, creed or color.
- Hire work to be done, or purchase materials, or enter into contracts that will cause sums budgeted for specific purposes to be exceeded. Local school boards keep the public schools in the possession of the public rather than a central government, professional educators and private corporations. Our schools began as local institutions, and school boards keep them that way.
Why are School Boards Necessary?
School boards are necessary for several reasons:
- Local school boards keep the public schools in the possession of the public rather than a central government, professional educators and private corporations. Our schools began as local institutions, and school boards keep them that way.
- School boards are a check on the proprietary interests of professionals. Thus, they carry out the American precept of checks and balances.
- School boards afford a means for bringing together varying points of view when formulating school policy.
- School boards make possible, but do not guarantee, the direct exercise of the people’s will in regard to public education. School boards are expected to use the information at their disposal to make decisions in the best interest of the community.
- Because school boards are trustees of our heritage, the position of school director has gained recognition as a community’s highest honor. The purpose of education is to help people adjust to, perpetuate and improve their lives.
What are the Chief Responsibilities of the School Board?
School boards are responsible:
- Through the staff, to develop and constantly improve the educational program.
- To provide and maintain educationally efficient school facilities.
- To secure adequate financial resources.
- To maintain two-way communication between the board and students, employees, parents, taxpayers and the community.
- To select the chief executive officer, and to work harmoniously and honestly with that person.
How Do School Board Members Differ?
School board members differ in a variety of ways.
- School board members are unique. They differ in personality, attitudes, purposes and methods of working with people. They come from all walks of life with different talents.
- Some school board members know how to work with people; some do not.
- Some have pet peeves or prejudices when they come on the board; others keep their minds open and ready to learn.
- Some are ready to believe every complaint they hear; others wait judiciously for the evidence.
- Some are passive; others are aggressive.
- Some seek publicity for personal attention; others are on the board only to serve the schools.
- Some are courageous and will stand up for the program of the schools; others are highly sensitive to criticism and will give in or compromise at the least pressure.
- Some will take time to represent the schools to the public and explain the program; others are too busy to devote the time.
- Some see the superintendent as a necessary evil; others see the superintendent as a partner, working with the board as its chief executive officer.
Role of the Superintendent and the Administrative Staff
The superintendent and administrative staff play a vital role in school board operations and support.
- The staff is employed by the board to administer and operate the schools under its direction.
- The superintendent is a partner of the board. No policy should be adopted without the superintendent’s recommendations. The superintendent should be at all board meetings, except possibly those fixing his or her salary.
- The superintendent is the leader of the staff.
- The superintendent links the board with all other school employees.
- The superintendent and the administrative staff must strive to use the resources of the board, the teachers and the community in effecting changes in educational policy.
- The superintendent and staff must know the community. The superintendent must have the ability to work with community leaders to obtain their confidence and support.
- The superintendent and staff must interpret the needs of the school system.
- The superintendent and staff must interpret board decisions to school personnel and the community.
- The superintendent must work with or hire central staff who have unique skills and abilities to perform the many services needed in fulfilling the tasks of the school district.
- The superintendent of schools is employed by the board of education as its executive agent -- a professional adviser to the board, the chief administrator of the schools, the leader of the staff and the focal point of responsibility in the district.
- Building principals are the educational leaders in the various schools. Their position is to inspire their staff to provide the best education possible, consistent with overall school district policy. They must share responsibilities for selection, improvement and dismissal of personnel. They should be a professional resource to the board, and they should be able to identify the resources necessary to aid teaching and learning in their respective schools.
What are the Basic Requirements for Successful School Boardmanship?
- Recognition that inservice training and self-study are essential to effective boardmanship.
- Acceptance of the principles of teamwork, board unity and subordination of self-interest.
- Understanding the executive function delegated to the superintendent and the administrative staff, and willingness to support board administrative policies.
- Demonstrating initiative, informed leadership, and insight in board planning and policy making.
- Effectiveness in professional relationships.
- Effectiveness in staff and group relationships.
- Courage for the good of the schools in spite of pressure and influences.
Earmarks of a Successful Management Team
A successful management team will possess many, if not all, of the following qualities.
- Members of the team must know their roles and respect the roles of other team members.
- Each member must respect the right of others to have differing points of view.
- Each member must be working toward commonly accepted goals (performance by objectives, valuing job positions, management by objectives, etc).
- Forums must be provided for dialogue and objective dissent, but once a decision is reached, uniform action is demanded.
- Responsibilities imply an inherent privilege -- that of participation in the evolution of a decision leading to a responsibility.
- All team members must understand that various people are at different stages in their understanding of a new idea.
- Members must assign priorities to the use of their time in achieving board goals.
Top Leadership Responsibilities of School Board Members
School board members have a responsibility to lead their school community, and should routinely display the following:
- Qualities such as integrity, perseverance, faith, ability to plan, vision, initiative and courage among members.
- Work for harmony and a "team spirit" within the board.
- Establish clearly and simply written board policies in cooperation with all concerned, make them available to the school staff and the community, and keep them up to date.
- Work for a curriculum that adequately meets the needs of children and adults in the school community.
- Move steadily toward adequate housing and facilities for the school population, present and future.
- Stand for adequate financial support based on an equitable distribution of the burden, and stand for efficient use of financial resources.
- Encourage cooperative relationships between the school system and the community, so everyone has the important facts about the school.
- Be alert to conditions and influences in the school district that contain seeds of controversy, and initiate plans to deal with them.
- Work unceasingly to advance the quality and effectiveness of the educational program.
- Encourage in-service training for the board and the staff. Establish policy and budget accordingly for board learning opportunities.
PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION
774 Limekiln Rd. New Cumberland, PA 17070