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What Does a School District Office Do?

The school district office typically handles a range of responsibilities from fiscal oversight to selecting textbooks.

By GreatSchools Staff

Knowing who does what in your child's school, and figuring out the best ways to communicate with school staff, can help you be effective in supporting your child's success in school.

All public school districts have many legal responsibilities. These must be taken care of "at the district level," meaning they require the review or approval of the district's school board. They include the following:

  • Selection of curriculum materials
  • Staff assignments, employee hires and dismissals, labor negotiations and contracts (teachers, principals, and other staff are all employees of the school district)
  • Monitoring both revenues and expenditures
  • Compliance with state and federal laws, including regulations related to dozens of categorical programs which range from special education to school lunches
  • Management of the district's real property and facilities

In addition, most school districts centralize certain parts of their operation for efficiency and effectiveness. These can include staff development, purchasing, technology planning, strategic planning, public information, student transportation, student performance standards, and student assessments, to name just a few.

With the trend toward school-level decision making, some districts have pushed more operations and decisions to the school level. The district, however, retains the responsibility for equity of educational opportunity for all students in all of its schools.

School Districts Vary in Their Operation

Every school district is free to organize itself and the way it does business. As you might expect, larger school districts usually have bigger and more complex central operations. You might find separate departments or offices for virtually every function mentioned above. In a medium-sized district, a district administrator might have multiple responsibilities, such as purchasing, facilities, monitoring expenditures, and fiscal planning. In a one-school district, the principal is often also the superintendent and has some extra duties, including working with the school board.

The District/School Relationship

Often, school site people refer to the district office as "they" or the "folks downtown." The degree to which schools and district office personnel work as partners can reveal a lot about the district's culture. Many school districts that formerly functioned as regulators, ensuring school-level compliance with the rules, now emphasize providing support to school site staffs to help them improve their performance. With a few careful questions you can usually determine how your school district relates to the school site.

The Superintendent as Chief Administrator

The school district superintendent is the equivalent of a corporate chief executive officer. This is the person the school board holds accountable. The superintendent also acts as secretary to the board and as such is part of the school district's governance team. The nature of the board/superintendent relationship in a district will tell you a great deal about how that district is run.

If you want to become involved in district-level decisions or committees, ask your school principal or another active parent how you can play a role. You can also call the superintendent's office, which is often the first and best place to go for information. From this office you may be directed elsewhere, but it's usually by someone who routinely deals with the public and knows how the district is organized.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/4/2010:
"Do our schools have and auditor on staff, or do they get audited regularly from an outside company, and if so, how often. I work for a school system in the greater cincinnati area. Many schhol levies are failing and the public is calling for reponsible spending. As a school bus driver, I see so much wasted spending. Who is responsible to oversee this?"
04/2/2009:
"To whom it may concern, My question is my son continues to be bullied and he's to the point of ready to retaliate, is it possibleto redone my son, fearing for his safety, mind you he's been assaulted numerous times since 6th grade until present? Thank you in advance, Concerned parent"
01/4/2005:
"Am I the only parent out here upset about the amount of time teachers are not teaching? I'm referring to in-service days, one day a week afternoons off, every possible holiday you could think of, plus, fall break, election day break, Thanksgiving break, 2 weeks at Christmas, etc. etc. This election day break, (combined with a Monday in-service day) is the 4th time my child has had a 4 day break in 2 months. I'm I out of line thinking this is just too much? No wonder teachers are always complaining about not having enough time to teach - they are out of class almost more than in. This just would not be tolerated in the 'real' world. "
08/5/2004:
"I'm from Elkhart Indiana, I feel you should be able to send your child wherever you want for school. We live in the city, which is the right side of the street, the left side is the county, but a street that runs through that street half of it is for one school and the other half is for another school. The school we want our daughter to go to won't accept her, because we don't live on the left side of the street! It's not fair. I'd take her to school too, it's not like she'd have to bus it. The school we want to send her to is closer than the school we're supposed to send her to. It doesn't make any sense! "
03/27/2003:
"I need help. We built a house in the country and were told by 2 realtors, the man we bought the land from, and the neighbor next door that we were in the Denmark, Wisconsin school district. Now, when I try to register my son for school, I find that we are right on the school zone district line - and that we are in another school district. The house next door is in the Denmark school district and the line goes down the middle of a field! There seems to be great confusion about our area, and it took another neighbor with a new house 6 months to clarify her school district - and she's a teacher in Green Bay! Now I find I have missed the open enrollment date, and will have to bus him to Kewaunee, Wisconsin 14 miles away and 45 minutes away from Green Bay where we work. Denmark is approximately 15 minutes from Green Bay and we need him to attend school there. Kewaunee is in the opposite direction from work and Denmark, and it just doesn't make sense. Does anyone know how to get my property rezoned by the school district? I know it is possible, but not likely, but I don't seem to have any other choices other than to do a great deal of driving and for him to sit on a school bus 2+ hours a day. "
02/20/2003:
"I am from a small town with a K-12 school which is part of a school district with 5 high schools. The overall population of this district has dropped and the school board is trying to consolidate our little school with another 22 miles away. This the third time in 15 years that they have tried this. We are looking for information on how small schools survive. Our morale is bottomed out. Can anyone help? "
12/30/2002:
"This website is so great!! I just love it!! After moving to the metroplex we found that where we chose to live did not have an overall good school district. When we were able to move we again made a poor choice but a little better. Now we are moving again.. This time we spent alot of time researching the area as well as the schools. We have used this site so much in the past year!! "
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