What every parent should know about their school board. Do school boards seem boring and irrelevant? Not so fast. These few people have the power to shape your child’s education.
What the heck is a school board?
Public schools are run, as the name implies, by the public.
The voting public (ahem, you) votes on, and essentially hires, their board of education. A board of education, some districts call it a school committee, is a group of three to seven elected officials (in Grand Prairie there are seven) who assume a leadership role in overseeing the academic, legal, and financial health of a school district.
What does that entail? School boards are nothing less than the governing body of a school district. They are the bosses’ bosses representing the public interest and to this extent, they should serve the diverse values and needs of their community.
Every district in the country has a board of education. Nationwide, school board members make up the largest group of elected officials in the country, totaling approximately 95,000 people. Aside from your child’s teacher, principal, and district superintendent, school board members have the greatest influence on your child’s education because they decide on how to spend a district’s public school funds and set its governing policies.
The day-to-day work of school boards
Typically, school boards convene every month in meetings that are open to the public (unless they are closed session). These gatherings range from tedious and tame rubber-stamping sessions to intense, provocative discussions where controversial issues are debated, and landmark decisions are made.
School boards are nonpartisan(or are at least supposed to be). In Grand Prairie, members serve three-year terms. Their terms are staggered so seats don’t become open all at once, and most elections take place in May. In most cases, a candidate has to be at least 18 years old, a citizen of your state, a resident of your district, and should be a registered voter and eligible under your state’s constitution to be elected to public office.
Depending on the district, many are unpaid volunteers and others, especially in large districts with more responsibilities and larger budgets, receive a small salary. In some larger districts, the duties entail a lot of work for the position. In Grand Prairie there is no salary.
In most cases, a school district employee can’t be a board member in their district. This means that a teacher, principal, librarian, custodian, or anyone else who works in a school in their district cannot serve on their school board unless they resign from their employed position. Someone who is no longer employed by the district could certainly run and would have a unique perspective to offer the board.
School districts are complex organizations and require a governing board that collectively have a range of skills, from managing a budget of often millions of dollars to responding to the needs of millions of parents, guardians, and children. Without exception, the decisions a school board makes will impact your children and you for years to come. Think property taxes and property values but most importantly think about the future workforce. Are children learning what they need to in order to be successful adults?
But what does the school board do?
A well-run school board plays a vital role in keeping your local schools on track, always with the students’ best interests in mind. Ideally, a school board works with, and for, their community with the overarching goal of improving your district’s local schools. They should be maintaining a strong organizational structure for their district, one that empowers the superintendent and district administrators to manage the schools, the teachers to effectively teach, and the students to be supported in a thriving learning environment.
5 key functions of a good school board
- Sets a vision They establish a clear vision and high expectations for quality education that supports strong student outcomes.
- Advances policy They set practical guidelines for transforming its vision into reality. Through policy, the school board influences nearly every aspect of school operations.
- Demonstrates accountability They share responsibility with educators for the performance of the district’s schools and students. This means maintaining high academic standards, transparency, and accountability.
- Plays a leadership role in the community They listen to and respond to a community’s concerns and explain the district’s priorities to the public.
- Forges consensus A school board will regularly face issues that invite a diversity of strong opinions and passionate beliefs. Their goal should, however, remain the same: to pursue consensus, to reconcile differences, and to reach compromises, all in the service of its students.
Other responsibilities include hiring and evaluating your district’s superintendent, adopting policies that will affect each school in your district, serving as a judicial and appeals body to resolve conflicts, managing the collective bargaining process for the district’s employees, and allocating funds. They are also tasked with other duties, that even if seemingly mundane, might greatly affect you and your child’s everyday life, like deciding on the school calendar, choosing school bus times and routes, adopting new curriculums, and deciding on individual construction projects in addition to real estate bought and sold with your tax dollars.
A powerful school board goes beyond the classroom and partners with the community. They should be responding to a community’s hopes for its young people. This can be done through partnerships with local employers, colleges, and nonprofit organizations, bringing in everything from local orchestras to teach about music to job apprentices with middle and high school students.
A school board has a symbolic role as well. The behavior a board demonstrates at public meetings, how well they work as a team, and the relationships that members have with your district’s teachers and administrators and families add up to the climate of a community’s public education. Healthy or dysfunctional, inspired or narrow-minded, school boards can make or break the quality of your local school system.
Here is a link to the current Grand Prairie ISD School Board along with their term details that show when they were elected and when they are up for re-election. It is always good to have board members on the school board that has or have had children that attend schools in the district. This shows that you have experience with what schools are like from a student, staff and parent perspective. It is also a good thing to have someone who is a homeowner on the school board. This means you have skin in the game and understand what it is like to pay property taxes, and understand that the decisions you make as a board member impact the pockets of your community.
Elections are coming up in May. Start a conversation in your community and help make a difference by running for your local school board. Check out the GPISD website here for filing details in January.