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Statewide System, Local Governance
Every local school district in Washington is part of a statewide system. Local school boards derive their authority from state law. In some respects their management is guided by the State Board of Education (SBE) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
In simple terms, the Legislature establishes general requirements and provides the money, which is then allocated by OSPI. The State Board and OSPI adopt the more specific rules needed to implement the laws. But in the final analysis, local school systems are successful because of actions taken by their respective boards. It is the local school board that adopts the budget, determining how much will be spent in each area. Employees can be hired and their salaries set only by a majority vote of the board. School districts in our state are not under the control of city or county officials. (To native Washingtonians, this is obvious. In some states, however, the public schools are part of municipal government.)
There are 295 local school districts in Washington, each with its own elected board. Essentially, each board's responsibility is "...to make ample provision for the education of all children. This is the board's legal mandate, as subdivisions of the state. School board members (the official term is school directors) are elected public officials whose charge it is to carry out this constitutional mandate.
Raymond School District Board of Directors
Board Chair—Pebbles Williams
The Governance Role of School Boards
The mission of the public schools is to educate each and every child to achieve his or her potential. This mission can be achieved only in the context of the new realities of our society and the world at large. In our time of social, economic, technological and geopolitical turbulence, the local school board's responsibility is greater than ever.
Acting on behalf of the people of each community, the local school board's leadership role is a governance role. School boards govern, administrators implement. Members ofthe board fulfill their governance role in four ways:
•Vision - The board, with extensive participation by the community, envisions the community's education future and then formulates the goals, defines the outcomes and sets the course for its public schools. This is done within the context of racial, ethnic and religious diversity and with a commitment to education excellence and equity for all children.
•Structure - To achieve its vision, the board establishes a structure that reflects local circumstances and creates an environment designed to ensure all students the opportunity to attain their maximum potential through a sound organizational framework. The board employs a superintendent, adopts missions and goals in harmony with its vision through a strategic planning process, develops and approves policies, formulates budgets and sets high instructional standards for students and staff. Knowing that schools alone can't meet every need, the board collaborates with families, community organizations and other public and private agencies for the benefit of the whole child. The board also nurtures a climate conducive to change.
•Accountability - Because the board is accountable to the local community, there is continuous assessment of all conditions affecting education. Thus, student achievement is monitored, program corrections are made when necessary, the public is kept informed about programs and progress, staff and board training is provided and governance and legal responsibilities are fulfilled. The primary focus of the schools is on student achievement and on how everything in schools can improve that achievement.
•Advocacy - The board serves as education's key advocate on behalf of students and their schools in the community. It advances the community's vision for its schools, pursues its goals, encourages progress, energizes systemic change and deals with children as whole persons in a diversified society.
Student achievement is the bottom line for school boards. Consequently, it is the local school board that best can bring together all of the community - parents, community groups and all others concerned about schooling - in an effective and responsible way.
The Responsibilities of School Boards
While many important tasks and decisions in every school district are delegated to the superintendent and the district staff, your board is ultimately responsible for all district concerns. As an individual board member you have no legal powers. You can exercise your powers as a board member only through board actions.
Basically, the responsibilities of all school boards fall into the following categories:
Planning and Goal Setting
This responsibility of a board cannot be delegated. This is the specific activity that establishes the vision for education in your community and the goals through which that vision becomes reality. This is the mechanism through which communities together can have input into the education of their children. The most successful and rewarding vision and goal-setting processes are those that involve all aspects of the community, staff, parents and students.
Evaluation is the mechanism by which boards are held accountable to the public for the goals that are set for education in their communities. The board is responsible for obtaining from the administration and other sources reliable information upon which to make the best possible decisions about their schools and the scope and nature of all school programs. The board is ultimately responsible for appraisal of the results of these programs, a task which is frequently delegated to the administration for review by the board.
A board's major function, and the foundation upon which the district's "structure" is built, is the setting of policy. The board develops and adopts district policy governing all facets of school operations, including employment of staff, administration of pupil services, educational programs, instructional materials, school facilities, equipment, finance and support services. A board can adopt policy upon the recommendation of the superintendent, but the final decisions on policy cannot be delegated. A board delegates the implementation of policies to the superintendent of schools. It evaluates the execution and effect of policy through observations, special oversight studies and periodic reports by administrators.
Designating the Chief Executive
A board is responsible for recruiting, hiring and evaluating the performance of the superintendent of schools. This task cannot be delegated. Unless otherwise specified in state statutes or board policy, a board exercises daily supervision and control primarily through its chief administrator and does not deal directly with individual staff members employed to assist the superintendent in implementing board directives.
Working closely with the school administration and within the scope of the state learning goals, a board must set general goals and adopt policies upon which instructional programs will be based, all of which must be in accordance with state law and regulations promulgated by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education. A board has the power to accept, modify, or reject its administration's recommendations on the scope and nature of educational offerings, as well as on which textbooks will be used.
Although the board does not deal directly with students and solve student-related problems, it does set policies which guide the actions of administration and other school staff. A board can accept, modify, or reject policies recommended by the superintendent regarding school admissions, placement, promotion, attendance, expulsion, suspension, graduation, conduct, discipline, safety, health services, food services and transportation services. All such policies must be viewed in light of their effect on all students' equal access to educational opportunities in accordance with state and federal requirements. The board also may hear and decide individual student appeals of administrative actions in some areas, such as discipline.
In consultation with the superintendent, a board is responsible for approval and adoption of an annual budget that will provide the financial basis for the buildings, furnishings, staff, materials, transportation and equipment needed to carry out educational programs.
Other financial responsibilities include:
•Authorizing the administration to make the necessary expenditures budgeted and appropriated by the board
•Approving budget extensions
•Authorizing and setting levy amounts
•Making decisions on the time, size and sale of bonds and the investment of bond proceeds
•Adopting policies for the purchase, disposal and distribution of supplies, property and equipment
•Approving and adopting an insurance program for the district
•Authorizing the administration to invest and borrow funds within the limitations of state law
Staffing and Appraisal
In most districts, the board delegates the tasks of recruiting, recommending for hire, evaluating, promoting and disciplining staff (in accordance with board policy) to the superintendent. The board is responsible, within the framework of state law and often of collective bargaining, for establishing policy governing salaries and salary schedules, terms and conditions of employment, fringe benefits, leave and in-service training. The board works with the superintendent to establish the district's position in negotiation with unions and ratifies all collective bargaining contracts.
A board is responsible for determining school housing needs; communicating those needs to the community; placing capital measures before the voters; purchasing, disposing of or leasing school sites; and for approving building plans that will support and enhance educational programs. Upon the recommendation of the superintendent, a board will employ architects, hire building contractors and contract for operational and maintenance services.
Adjudication and Investigation
From time to time, a board may have to hear appeals from school staff members or students on issues that involve board policy implementation. It may also conduct quasi-legislative oversight hearings and investigations on board policy choices or implementation issues and school system operations.
To be an effective board member, you will want to maintain ongoing personal communication with school staff, parents, students, opinion leaders, your legislators and other members of the community. Your board must see to it that there are adequate and direct means for keeping the local citizenry informed and for keeping itself informed about the wishes of the public. All formal means of district communication (surveys, newsletters and the like) should be established in board policy and delegated to the administration.
Other activities include:
•Establishing procedures for the operation of the board
•Electing board officers
•Establishing attendance zones for the school district
•Retaining an attorney or law firm for the school district
•Setting strategy and coordinating litigation decisions when the school district is involved in a lawsuit
•Establishing and maintaining effective board-superintendent relations
•Periodically reviewing and evaluating board operations and performance
•Working with (as well as authorizing the administration to work with) city, county, and other government and non-government officials and agencies.
(This document is adapted from the Washington State School Director's Association booklet entitled "Serving on Your Local School Board".)