What are the roles and responsibilities of a local board of education?

Boards of education have several functions, including establishing the vision for the district, setting goals, establishing policies for a school system, hiring and evaluating the superintendent of schools, holding the superintendent accountable for accomplishing district goals and helping build support for public education.

The Vision


Setting a vision is not just another way of saying “goal setting” or “long-range planning.”  The word comes from the Latin videre, which means “to see,” and a vision for a school district should, in fact, give people another way to see their schools, clearly showing the district not only as it is, but also what it might become. 

As a school board member, you will have a central role in defining your district’s vision, but yours should not be the only viewpoint considered.  Teachers, administrators, community members and students are more likely to support the board’s vision if they feel they have played a part in developing it. 

The process of creating a vision involves making choices, not only about where the district is headed, but also about how it will get there.  For this reason, establishing a vision may be the most difficult responsibility any school board faces.  But it is also perhaps the most important.

Specific responsibilities for school board members include:
Keeping students as the focus of the work of schools;
adopting a shared vision based on community beliefs to guide local education; and
demonstrating a strong commitment to the shared vision and mission by using them to guide decision-making and communicating them to others.

Structure

The board must also put in place an organizational framework that can allow the district to achieve its vision. School boards are responsible for providing a planning, policy and management structure that reflects local expectations and circumstances. This begins by employing a superintendent, adopting missions and goals in harmony with its vision through a strategic planning process, developing and approving policies, formulating budgets and setting high instructional standards for students and staff. The board must create an environment in the school system that encourages innovation and supports staff members in a process of continuous improvement of education.

Specific responsibilities for school board members include:
Employing a superintendent and establishing a district management system that enables all people to contribute meaningfully to achieve the district’s vision;
establishing direct processes to use information and make effective decisions;
ensuring short- and long-term plans are developed and annually revised through a process involving extensive participation, information gathering, research and reflection;
supporting student learning and school renewal when reviewing and adopting policies and allocating resources that support student learning;
setting high instructional standards based on the best available information about the knowledge and skills students will need in the future; and
encouraging an environment conducive to innovative approaches to teaching and learning and supportive of continuous improvement in education.

 Accountability

 The genius of America’s education system is that local boards are directly accountable to the communities they serve. Effective boards engage in continuous assessment of all conditions affecting education. These should include:
Monitoring student achievement;
using student achievement data and all other available information as a basis for making program corrections and modifications as needed;
keeping the public informed on the status of the district’s programs and students’ progress;
ensuring all functions of schools as institutions of teaching and learning fit together harmoniously;
providing appropriate staff and board training opportunities;
encouraging curricular and assessment innovation; and
fulfilling governance responsibilities as required by state and federal law.

 A comprehensive accountability system can improve the effectiveness of schools by keeping the primary focus on student achievement and on what can and should be done to improve that achievement.

Specific responsibilities for school boards include:
Receiving regular reports on student progress and needs based on a variety of assessments in order to evaluate the quality and equity of education in the district;
evaluating both superintendent and board performance;
evaluating progress toward the achievement of district long- and short-term goals and ensuring policies and allocation of resources effectively support the district vision; and 
reporting district progress to the community and parents on a regular basis.

Improving Student Achievement

Our public schools are about preparing students for the future. Our students must be prepared to compete on a global economic field and this means we must continue to improve student achievement. Boards of education need to work within the framework of a continuous improvement model to make sure our schools are preparing every student to succeed. Goal setting is an important part of that process. Boards must work with administrators, teachers and the community to set district goals. Board decisions should logically follow from board goals and objectives. The board should also establish procedures to annually evaluate the progress of the district.

The Kansas State Department of Education monitors and accredits schools in Kansas using Kansas Education System Accreditation (KESA). 

Setting Policy

 While it has been said the board makes policy and the superintendent administers it, the exact line between policy and administration is a fine one. Typically, a superintendent recommends a particular policy to the board, and the board considers it. They then accept, modify or reject the recommendation. Once a policy is adopted by the board, the superintendent is responsible for implementing the policy. The board and individual board members should refrain from becoming involved in the day-to-day operation of the schools. Kansas law states the superintendent manages the district on a day to day basis, subject to the rules and regulations set by the board of education.

 Hiring the Superintendent

Because the day-to-day operation of the district is the superintendent’s responsibility, selecting and retaining the right superintendent of schools for the district is a critical board decision. Hiring the right superintendent can mean having a school system in which children learn, administrators and teachers work together harmoniously and parents are satisfied and supportive. Perhaps no single decision a board makes has more impact than the selection of the superintendent.

Advocacy

 School boards serve as the leading advocate on behalf of students and their schools in the community.  Both individually and collectively, school board members need to remain informed of issues at the local, state and national levels. In a time when children come to school with more challenges than ever before, schools acknowledge they cannot meet all these needs alone. Instead, they collaborate with families, community organizations and other public and private agencies to benefit both the children and the community they serve.

 As a result, the advocacy role is increasingly important for school board members. Informing citizens about the schools’ accomplishments, challenges and needs is an essential part of school board leadership. Through their actions, board members represent the community and help foster understanding and support for the schools. Specific responsibilities for school boards include:
Seeking others who can help expand educational opportunities to meet the needs of the whole child;
advocating for children and families and establishing strong relationships with parents and other mentors to help support students;
promoting the schools’ instructional and other programs; 
leading in celebrating the achievements of students and others in education; and
promoting school board service as a meaningful way to make long-term contributions to society.

 These responsibilities mean school boards cannot work in isolation. They must bring together the entire community (parents, community groups and others concerned about education) in effective and responsible ways to initiate and sustain lasting school improvement.

Local Governance Structure

With the exception of Fort Leavenworth USD 207, all Kansas school boards consist of seven elected members, and all unified school districts are responsible for the education of children in grades kindergarten through 12. Increasing numbers of school districts are involved in early childhood and adult education programs as well.  Many school districts are also members of interlocal cooperatives or service centers. These cooperatives, whose governing bodies consist of local board members from participating school districts, provide services ranging from group purchasing to special education.

The Fort Leavenworth schools operate with two major differences compared to other Kansas districts. The district only serves grades K-9, and the board is composed of three residents of the base appointed by the commanding officer of Fort Leavenworth.