January is School Board Recognition Month

What does a school board do?

By Trina Pruitt, parent and Go Public contributor

January is School Board Recognition Month and social media has been flooded with school staff, teachers, and parents posting appreciation for their local school board.  I’ve seen elementary students making thank you cards, high school art students creating renderings, and posters showing gratitude for their school district’s board of trustees. Throughout the month, community members and local businesses have attended school board meetings in acknowledgment of their trustees’ dedication.  

As I perused Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts, I realized that I honestly don’t know what a school board does.  I’m a little embarrassed that I don’t know much about the purpose of school boards. However, I do know they are involved in my children’s education on many levels.  I regularly vote for trustees in elections, but I vote with very little information about the candidates. I rely simply on campaign signs or word-of-mouth mentions in the neighborhood.  Wondering if I was alone in my feelings of ineptitude, I began asking around and found that most parents feel the same way. We really don’t know much about the role school boards play and the people that make decisions about our children’s educational paths.  After some research, I found some interesting information that helped me gain a better understanding of what a school board does. Armed with this information in the next school board election, I could delve deeper into the people running when it comes time to vote. 

do charter schools have a school board
What does a school board do

What are trustees?

Every public school district is governed by a local school board, elected by members of their community.  The board members, or trustees, represent their constituents’ diverse opinions and values, and they are residents of the school district they serve.  They are not required to have experience in education, so they can be local members of the community like doctors, real estate agents, bus drivers, professors, business owners, unemployed individuals, and parents.  

Okay, so what does a school board do?

School boards serve the community in a variety of ways.  The board is the voice of the community regarding decisions about the schools in the district.  Board members listen to the ideas of the people in the community, school staff, and students, and they include those ideas in setting district goals. They advocate for their school district and schools, by speaking up for them to the superintendent and local officials.  

Do trustees get paid?

Trustees are unpaid and the job and efforts are not always easy. Board members volunteer a significant amount of their free time by attending meetings, participating in continuing education training and professional development, researching district policy and data, communicating with constituents, and representing the district at community events.  Trustees face difficult choices, self-sacrifice, and exposure to public criticism. However, their efforts also bring personal satisfaction in sharing the district’s academic successes with students, parents, and staff.

School boards are in charge of many basic duties while governing the district.  They hire and evaluate the superintendent and approve and monitor district policies and budgets.  They meet regularly to review the district’s accountability for performance and student achievement, and they collectively ensure that the district adheres to state standards.

Decisions regarding the district are made at public, open school board meetings by majority vote.  Parents and community members are encouraged to attend board meetings, and they are welcome to speak to the board for consideration on any district topic or issue of concern.  Ultimately the purpose of the meetings is always to make policy with the best interest of all students in mind.

What about charter schools?

There are significant differences between traditional public school boards and charter school boards. The boards of independent school districts (ISDs) are locally elected, while the boards of charter schools are typically appointed.

Charter schools are privately managed, taxpayer-funded schools, and are exempt from some rules and regulations that apply to other public schools receiving taxpayer dollars.

School boards and ISDs are an open book. They make available their financials, demographics, and other data.  I learned this is different from charter schools. Charters don’t have to comply with the same levels of accountability and transparency, even though they receive taxpayer dollars.  

In terms of accountability, traditional independent school districts in Texas adhere strictly to standards set by the State Board of Education, while charter schools are bound to what is outlined in their charter.  The charter is drawn up by a group or entity like teachers, parents, local government, for-profit or non-profit organizations, private businesses, etc.

In both instances, the school board oversees the management of the district or charter school and ensures that the superintendent effectively monitors district policy and operations.  

At the end of the day, our school board members are responsible for the success or failure of our local public education through the policies they make.  They are community volunteers tasked with making valuable decisions regarding our children’s education. Although showing appreciation should be a year-round process, School Board Recognition Month assures that these important people receive the thanks they deserve.  

Now that I (and hopefully you) have a better understanding of what our trustees do, I am inspired to play a part this month in celebrating our hard-working school board.  

I am challenging myself to pay more attention to my district’s current issues and to attend a board meeting to see the process in action.  I invite you to do the same and join me in becoming more involved and invested in our children’s education!

Board of trustees

Go Public promotes the benefits of a K-12 public education in San Antonio by showcasing the choices and opportunities our Independent School Districts provide in preparing students for college, career, and life.