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What Does the School Board Do?

The school board sets the vision for the school district and the decisions they make at their monthly meetings make a difference for your school.

GreatSchools Blog

By GreatSchools Staff

The word "public" in public school refers to the fact that it is the citizens themselves who control the public schools. In most states, they do this in part by electing a school board of - depending on the size and configuration of the district - three, five or seven members who must be residents of the school district.

The most important thing a school board does is to establish a vision for the community's schools that reflects a consensus of the board, community and district staff. The school board has a wide variety of additional responsibilities, such as adopting a balanced annual budget and issuing interim financial reports, adopting the school calendar, negotiating contracts with employee unions, approving curriculum materials and closing or constructing schools.

What philosophy of education do we want our local schools to have? What should our students know and be able to do when they graduate? How can schools best educate students who come from diverse backgrounds? These are some of the types of questions that a school board must ponder when trying to establish a vision.

Turning Vision Into Practice

Whatever the vision may be, it's up to the school superintendent to implement it. This is why one of the board's most crucial decisions is the hiring and firing of the superintendent. The board also approves the superintendent's personnel recommendations.

School board meetings must be open to the public with the agenda publicly posted in advance. You can learn a lot about your district's policies and challenges by attending a meeting. In most cases, board meetings are also structured to give you a chance to express your opinions to the board and the community.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

06/26/2012:
"Private schools are the way to go. If only I could replay my children's education, I would have sent them to private school! "
11/10/2011:
"Reading these comments make me feel that I'm alone. In the zero-tolerance policy, I strongly agree that it's very unfair. Growing up, we had second chances on making things right. Now , the kids are punished as of they committed a crime, even on suspicions.Then when you take your child to the hearing and lose you go one step higher, which is the Board. Hoping for a turn-around. No, considerations! Regardless of GPA's or penmanship, only through years of harping and accusations. Presenting your facts or questions on how the school is playing cop & robber. They will turn down your request, because my son got the harder punishment for not being a "JOCK." I still have other children in the district, and still volunteer my 8hr time a week to their school. The point is, they are a pack. Even if one listens, he's afraid to stand up because they got to watch each others back. So, this comes down to what is really their interest. What rank is your district,and what is our STAR test s! core. Of course, better scores for better funds. Other than the scores, they simply don't care. This is truly so sad.... "
09/28/2011:
"I'm curious to how many school boards get a paid salary, payment for each school board meeting, and fully paid family insurance? Our school board does and they also get to serve as long as peolpe keep electing them. "
09/27/2011:
"I was just recently told that in order for me to chaperone, I have to get an ID badge to volunteer. I said no problem, run a background check and all. Well then I was told I had to pay $16 for it. When did parent volunteers get told they have to pay to help out at their schools? My daughter has already asked me if I could put her in a different school district or private school. What is to be done. "
04/13/2011:
"this was very useful"
03/14/2011:
"Does the school board have a right to close a school without consulting the community and members of their district?Please we are fighting to save a school. It is in the best interest of the students to keep it open. Our special education students need this establishment. Our state scores, our neighborhood is the best for their education. All power was taken from the community.How do you tell when a school board is abusing their power?"
05/10/2010:
"I would like to ask a question. How is a charter school board elected?"
11/6/2009:
"I like the commentary on superintendents who can fool the best-intentioned board of education. They are out there. Just as bad is a board of education that does not listen to the people who elected them to their seats. Together, this is a diabolical combination which can only lead to trouble for a school district. "
09/1/2009:
"Good information."
08/14/2009:
"the biggest reason parent don't particate is because all the meeting are at two or one in the afternoon. seriously if you wnat parent to join and have a strong and sucessful scholl start by changing the time of these meeting. pleeeease. Now is the time to come together and be more concsiderate due to the fact that parent need also to work to survive. i already wrote to my school bell gardens high school to regarding this topic. i know i'm not the only parent with this concern. my daugther will be a senor this year and god only know what is the issue going to be once she goes back to school. "
08/13/2009:
"our public school system is lacking in common sense. When I went to school things were more simple. Since zero tolerance came on the scene common sense went out the window. The school wants you to believe that their zero tolerance policy works but that is bunk. These are supposed to be highly educated individuals but the new zero tolerance laws equal zero common sense. Our children suffer from this ignorance, they do not learn from it. So sad.."
12/10/2008:
"I'm wondering if a local school boards decision to expell a student with no physical evidence of the charge can be over ridden by the Michigan State Education Board. The school administration and Board say they do not need physical evidence as the Michigan state law would in a court of law. They used school gossip 'hearsay' and statements made by other students as their so called evidence, for a 180 day expulsion. NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER!! Please HELP It would be much appreciated!"
10/13/2008:
"Im a mother of a child who has a learning disbility and has been fighting with the school to have my child tested thru them. It was not until I had a doctor interven on my behalf that the school was willing to listen to me. The teacher who was in charge of the program for these kids who learn differently told me to wait til she was in 2nd to 3rd grade. WHY!? The first visit with the doctor he saw it right away that there was a problem. Why are the schools against helping children who have any type of disability. My neice who is very smart doing 7th grade work and only in 4th grade, they have programs for gifted children like her. What makes these children more important then my daughter and other children like her. The NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND idea is just that a wonderful dream that some polician dreamed up. I'v asked in the past, what programs do they offer to help my child they told me unfortunatly the only way my child can get help is to get worse. My feeling is shouldn't ! we help the children before they get worst and instead of the other way around. I'm active with my child I write letters to her teacher to see how she is progressing and have asked help and wasn't given any and told she is just a child that learns slower and different then other children. My response to this is that that is the problem. I'm the one who brought my child's learning problem to there attenion not the other way around. I've read different articles that parents need to be more invovled in their children's education, I'm one of the parent that is but find my self in a corner dealing with some teachers who want to help and other teachers mnore worried about their reputation. I asked what am I do to do? I'll tell you I refuse to give up on my child or the teachers who have been wonderful in the past that worked with me and who truly are here for the kids and not just to get the weekens and summer off. As frustrated as it is I glad to have met these teachers and thank them for their help. "
07/1/2008:
"The School Board is elected by the people who live within the boundaries of the school district (parents and non-parents alike). If your board is not listening, you need to educate yourself about who is not listening and determine which board candidates follow your views so you can elect the people to the board who will best serve your needs. All too often, we get to the school board elections and know nothing about the candidates. As parents, knowing the candidates should be a high priority."
03/5/2008:
"what do we as a community and as individual parents do when a vice principal is bullying, harrassing, and causing more good kids to end up in court and even causing an astonishing rate of parents to pull thier children out of thier school as the only reasonable means of protecting thier children"
11/30/2007:
" what if the board is not listening,what would be the next step."
05/24/2007:
"Who does the Board Members report too? If your voice as a parent was not being heard with the Board Members who do you contact next?"
03/29/2007:
"Small town Michigan school administrators and boards appear to have degenerated into being comprised of petty and self interested individuals, no longer serving their constituents with integrity and ethics. CYA is their theme! If they screw up, then you have to go back to them so they can get it right. (per state regulation) You get to enjoy the kangaroo court process as many times as it take for them to do so! Then there is the matter of the courts being on their side, because we all know how 'well meaning they all are'. Are you laughing yet!?! Just try and prove negligence!! Even when they use statues to expell kids that have been struck down by federal judges...they didn't mean anything by it! Through dealing with Zero Tolerance in Michigan Schools, I was rudely awakened to the shortcomings of this state's school system and was given the unexpected opportunity to find out what is now available in the homeschooling realm. This was when I found alternative education as a poor choice for our son. With more and more homeschool groups forming, the hemoraging from the public school system is bound to continue and increase. What would I say about homeschooling parents? They are very wise and insightful people and making the absolute best choices for their children that they can. I truly wish that I had sooner!"
09/20/2005:
"What does the Board of Education do? 1. They decide what your children will be taught, choosing which programs the teachers must include in the school day and year. 2. They choose your children’s friends, by creating the boundaries which direct who their classmates are, and how they feed through the system over many years. 3. They set the value of your home, by deciding whether your neighborhood has a local school. 4. They guide the economy, because as education goes, so goes the economy. Is this the kind of power we want to hand over to an elected official with little thought? They have more direct impact on our daily lives than our Mayor, Governor, National Senator or the President of the United States. Despite this, they are rarely in the public eye, few people study their positions on the issues, or even know who they are. We should all be watching closely and taking notes on these elected officials."
01/18/2005:
"I live in a tiny town of 200. Our small grammer school is being closed and our children are being bused 25 miles to the other half of the 'Unified School District' to a school that doesn't have as good a API rating and most of the tax based money they get is from our area's property taxes. The school board voted to buy a new fullsized bus with DVD player and 4 screens for the athletics 'away games' this year, but they are closing our school due to budget problems. AND, our school board members all get PAID health insurance from the school district. Our little school has been teaching children since 1910. Any suggestions? We, as a town are MAD, and fighting for our school's life."
01/18/2005:
"Apparently everthing that's written above explaining what a school board is supposed to do does not apply to the Erie/St.Paul district in Kansas. The parents have been stuggling for the past year, and also previously, with the members of this school board. They have voted in a private session to close two high schools in our district. Thayer and St.Paul high schools are scheduled to be closed down at the end of this year. The school board has ignored the 'vision' of the parents in the district. These parents who, a few months previously, had voted and have made their voices heard concerning the way this school board is handling the district. Now the parents have no choice but to take this issue to court. This problem has been on local TV and news papers for months now. My hope is that this issue can be held back long enough so that a change in personnel can be made on the school board. I can garantee by the outrage of these communities that the board members who are ! causing all these problems won't be on the board after that election."
09/16/2004:
"After reading the messages on this site, I don't even know what to say... except, 'How sad!' Growing up in the state of Montana, I do not remember ever hearing my parents, or any else's, complaining about the teachers or the school system. A by-product of that restraint was that we students had respect for our teachers and the principal in authority. I recently took a college entrance exam. Although, it had been over twenty years since I had taken any kind of exam, I scored high enough to merit compliments from the testing examiner! This included college-level algebra testing. What will your children boast of their educational training when they are grown? I hope my three children will remember that their stay-at-home mom went without trendy clothes and meals out so she could be there after school to help them through their homework and read to them before bed. Their military dad kept driving his battered vehicle so there would be money for school clubs ! and marching band. And, their dedicated teachers often went without sleep to write personal notes on all their essays and projects. "
07/26/2004:
"A quote from Mark Twain's 'The Tradgedy of Puddin'head Wilson'says: 'In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.' In my district school board meetings seem more like award ceremonies where everyone gets pats on the back and more time is allotted for children to perform before parents than for citizens to ask questions in 3minutes. Board members do not respond to questions and seldom if ever disagree with one another. "
07/20/2004:
"Get involved. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! Work with the board. If you don't like what is going on, run for the school board yourself! So many parents are quick to complain and slow to be a regular volunteer at the school. We as parents can and do make the difference. I am the mother of 11 children. I have been involved in the education process for many years. I still have many years to go before my last child will graduate. He is 2! Your child (or children) deserve to have you involved in their everyday school experience. "
06/25/2004:
"'No Child Left Behind' is a good idea, BUT only if administrators know and understand the law. TOO many administrators are ignorant of the law. School Boards protect terrible teachers that are abusive to students on a daily basis. If they would make theses teachers accountable for their actions then maybe parents and students would be more receptive to demands of higher pay. I will not support schools that 'protect' abusive teachers, or administrators. I live in WV and have dealt with this first hand this past year. I went up against the school board and WON! Even then, the school board was 'arrogant' with their attitude. Parents will not stand up against them, therefore the school boards feel they are above the law. Any law that makes school boards and their employees accountable for their actions is a GOOD idea. "
06/9/2004:
"I agree with the other Michigan response. Our school board does not make decisions based on parent input.They ignore all. They should be recalled but everyone is afraid that their children will get targeted.They are afraid not to have power. "
06/7/2004:
"Suceess in schools is when schools disricts partner with parents and not dictate . Give respect and recieve respect. "
06/4/2004:
"Hello from Ogden, Utah I just would like to say, that in order for a district to have value in the school system we must all work as a team and only then will you see the difference. Education starts at home, then it continues on, but if you as a parent want the district to solve all your problems, get more involved with it, so you can see that is not so easy to please everybody. Again people Team Work. Our children deserve it. "
06/4/2004:
"I am generally not a complainer but Kentucky schools have gotten so wrapped up with the no child left behind act that they have forgotten to do whats best for our kids. Test scores are more important to them than the well being of our children. They are punished and rarely ever rewarded all year around based on how they perform daily in class. I understand that there is alot of pressure on them for their students to do well, but the ways in which they choose to make them do it is often undignified, cruel, and unecessary. Everyone needs to remember that our childrens hearts need to be nurtured as well as their minds, and that emotional neglect is a form of child abuse. "
06/4/2004:
"Are the school systems so lacking in funds that they force teachers to teach a subject that they have no desire to teach? My son's school is suppose to be one of the 'Great Schools', yet I have not seen support for the children in comparison to the teachers.A teacher who does not like the subject she teaches,and does not know that subject has no business teaching it. The teaching methods are poor,and their attitude carries over into the classroom. This can literally destroy a students future in one semester. "
03/11/2004:
"I am glad to see so many people are let down by the public school system, I thought there was something wrong with me maybe I complain too much. I think the schools do not take any parent suggestions or solutions seriously. I work at the school duirng lunch and recess, I know all the kids well. This is the 'mean generation', this I believe is the parents problem. I think schools do too much over thinking, they should keep things simple. I hear about 'education has done studies and this is the way to do it'. I think they pay way too much money to consultants and educational studies and 'physco bable' when I went to school things were uncomplicated and just plain common sense. No one uses their common sense anymore. "
03/3/2004:
"Regardless of who does or says what, school administrators have a responsibility to follow their own rules. In our district, politics run rampant, where covering each other's arse is paramount over a child's rights. Perhaps we should go to a town meeting type of process (for decision making) rather than a select few who are more worried about the $80,000 salary than the child who's been repeatedly suspended for not having a pencil in class. I am disgusted with the administration in whole. "
02/18/2004:
"When we went to the school board meeting with a complaint against my children's school principal, we were dismissed like some naughty schoolchild that had done something wrong. The principal in question has the School Board members in her pocket. I had the Board's own policies in front of me regarding my problem, and they wouldn't even listen to me when I told them. The main speaker laughed at me and said, 'Honey, we know our own policies'. Actually they didn't regarding this matter, and they made up new rules as they went along. Its sad that board members aren't held accountable to anyone but themselves, because these people are abusing their power, and the ones it hurt the most were my children. There is a special place for people like them. "
10/9/2003:
"I am a board member and long-time parent in University Place, WA. School boards have a duty to act on behalf of the entire community. This often puts us at odds with individualized interests of customers and/or fellow community members. If board business is conducted smoothly, we are criticized for being a 'rubber stamp'...when we direct actions on behalf of the community, we are accused of 'micromanaging'. A school board's success is best judged over a lengthy period of time, by measuring results of (not reactions to) our decisions. "
09/24/2003:
"Hi: I am a member of the Board of Education in New Britain, Ct and we do care about the students, teachers, administration and anyone that has anything to do with our school system. I am frequently on the phone to parents and teachers to get a problem solved. We all have to help each other to get our children the best in education. Ture, there are some bad seeds, but on the whole it is our school system that makes our community. I urge everyone to get involved with their child's school. It's important to their education and yours. "
09/12/2003:
"People are quick to complain and slow to volunteer. I am a parent, teacher, and school board member. Each role has its own rewards and challenges. I am one of seven board members. I have no power on my own (other than access to the superintendent). If four board members vote to do something then and only then does the district do it. Things change slowly, but they won't change at all unless good people don't get involved. Action speaks louder than words. "
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