Kansas School Board Elections

Click for guide: So You Want to Be a School Board Member 2015 (pdf file)

 
An Important Position Within Your Community

The locally-elected school board is entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining, developing and operating local schools.  School board members make important decisions with long-lasting implications for their community and its citizens.  They establish a vision for the public education system in their community, are responsible for hiring and evaluating the superintendent of schools, adopt policies and monitor district finances, among other responsibilities.

Every school district in Kansas is governed by a locally-elected board of education.  In fact, school board members as a whole comprise the largest body of elected officials in our country.


School board elections are held the first Tuesday in April of each odd-numbered year. A primary election must be conducted if more than three people file for the same school board position. Primaries must be held on the Tuesday five weeks preceding the general election. The filing deadline for office is typically the latter part of January in the election year.

The voting plan to elect members varies among school districts. In some districts, all board members are elected at-large by the citizens of the district. In other school districts, some members are elected from certain areas of the district, and other board members are elected at-large. Contact your local county election office or school district superintendent if you need further information about the voting plan in your district.

Qualifications of a Good School Board Member

Although legal requirements for board members are few, the qualifications for effective service are many. A board member should:
  • Have a broad background of experience and knowledge;
  • Be visionary, able to understand the forces of societal change and to plan for the future;
  • Be tolerant and without prejudice, respecting diverse points of view;
  • Understand education today is complex, and simplistic approaches will not meet today’s challenges;
  • Be willing to invest the time and energy required for meetings, phone calls, conversations, visits to schools, professional development seminars and workshops;
  • Be responsive to human needs of individuals and groups;
  • Willing to be part of a team, supporting group decisions;
  • Listen for a real consensus and not confuse a few vocal constituents with a majority feeling;
  • Remember the responsibility is to all the children in the state, not solely to those in the local district; and
  • Learn and grow as you become more aware of your responsibilities.
It is very important for you to work as a team member and cooperate with other board members.
Decision-making authority is vested in the board of education, not in individual members.

The Local School Board and the New Realities

The National School Boards Association adopted the following statement on the role of local school boards in January, 1992.  The Kansas Association of School Boards endorsed this statement five months later.  It is intended to provide the framework for school board leadership, education programs and services.

The mission of the public school is to educate each and every child to the fullest of 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 times of social, economic, technological and geopolitical turbulence, the local school board’s responsibility is greater than ever.  But school boards are determined to meet this daunting obligation and fulfill the mission of public education.

The local school board, an integral part of the American institution of representative governance, acts on behalf of the people of each community across our nation to translate this education mission into reality.  A four-fold thrust for leadership by local school boards will ensure excellence and equity in the public schools and is pivotal in keeping America free and first among the nations of the world as the 21st century unfolds.

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 that 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.
  • Demonstrating a strong commitment to the shared vision and mission by using them to guide decision-making and communicating them to others.
Structure

To achieve its vision, a board must establish a structure and create an environment that will ensure for all students the opportunity to attain their maximum potential. Vision alone is not enough. 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 can move the district toward its vision. The infrastructure the board creates reflects local circumstances. It 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 also create an environment in the school system that encourages innovation and supports staff members in a process of continuous renewal 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 long- and short-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;
  • Setting high instructional standards based on the best available information of 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 system of local control of education is local boards are directly accountable to the communities they serve.  Effective boards engage in continuous assessment of all the 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.
Advocacy

School boards ought to serve as the leading advocate on behalf of students and their schools in the community.  Both individually and collectively, school board members need to speak out on issues that can advance the community’s vision for its schools.  They must keep the vision visible and vital for the community and for other organizations that serve the needs of children.
In a time when children come to school with more problems than ever before, schools must 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 becoming increasingly important for school board members. Informing citizens about the schools’ accomplishments, problems 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:
  • Seeing 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 be isolated institutions.  They must bring together the entire community (parents, community groups and others concerned about schooling) in effective and responsible ways to initiate and sustain lasting improvement of the schools.

The Local School Board -
An Overview


School boards share the responsibility for school governance with other elected officials of the state and national government and with the people as electors.  The Kansas Constitution makes education a state responsibility while at the same time providing for the operation of public schools by local school boards elected by citizens of the school district.  A little over 2,000 dedicated men and women guide a public school system that employs more than 50,000 people and serves nearly half a million children.  Board members receive no pay for their service, only the satisfaction that comes from providing an indispensable public service.
A Code of Ethics for School Board Members

As a member of my local board of education, representing all the citizens of my school district,

I recognize that:
  1. My fellow citizens entrust me with the educational development of the children and youth of the community;
  2. The public expects my first and greatest concern to be in the best interest of each and every one of these young people without distinction as to who they are or what their background may be;
  3. The future welfare of this community, state and nation depends on the quality of education we provide in the public schools and that fits the needs of every learner;
  4. My fellow board members and I must take the initiative to help all people of this community to have all the facts all the time about their schools, to the end they will readily provide the finest possible school program, school staff and school facilities;
  5. Legally the authority of the board is derived from the state that ultimately controls the organization and operation of the school district and that determines the degree of discretionary power left with the board and the people of this community for the exercise of local autonomy; and
  6. I must never neglect my personal obligation to the community and my legal obligation to the state, nor surrender these responsibilities to any other person, group or organization; but beyond these, I have a moral and civic obligation to the nation that will remain strong and free only as long as public schools in the United States of America are kept strong and free.
In view of the foregoing considerations, it shall be my constant endeavor to:

Devote time, thought and study to the duties and responsibilities of a school board member so I may render effective and credible service;
  1. Work with my fellow board members in a spirit of harmony and cooperation in spite of differences of opinion that arise;
  2. Base my personal decision upon all available facts in each situation; to vote my honest conviction in every case, unswayed by partisan bias of any kind; thereafter, to abide by and uphold the majority decision of the board;
  3. Remember at all times, as an individual, I have no legal authority outside the meetings of the board and to conduct my relationship with the school staff, the local citizens and all media on the basis of this fact;
  4. Resist every temptation and outside pressure to use my position as a school board member to benefit either me or any other individual or agency apart from the total interest of the school district;
  5. Recognize it is as important for the board to understand and evaluate the educational program of the schools as it is to plan for the business of school operation;
  6. Bear in mind under all circumstances the primary function of the board is to establish the policies by which the schools are to be administered, but that the administration of the educational program and the conduct of school business shall be left to the employed superintendent of schools and his or her staff;
  7. Welcome and encourage active cooperation by citizens, organizations and the media with respect to establishing policy on current school operations and proposed future developments;
  8. Support my state and national school boards associations; and
  9. Finally, strive step by step toward the ideal conditions for the most effective school board service to my community, in a spirit of teamwork and devotion to public education as the greatest instrument for the preservation and perpetuation of our representative democracy.

The Key Work of School Boards

State and federal laws and regulations created new accountability measures to monitor student achievement and impose sanctions for districts and buildings that do not meet the standards. Therefore, it becomes clear common past board practices of “managing” the district are not sufficient for future success. Everything the board oversees must now focus on increased student learning.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has coupled that focus with the need for increased public involvement by promoting The Key Work of School Boards. The Key Work is to improve student achievement through increased connections with the community. New school board members will need to quickly learn about these accountability measures and how the community will be an integral partner in reaching the high standards that are now common expectations. 

What Does a School Board Do?

Boards of education have several functions: set both short- and long-term goals for the school system; establish clear policy for a school system; select and evaluate the superintendent of schools; and hold the superintendent accountable for accomplishing district goals. Perhaps the most important work a school board member can do is to help build public support for, and understanding of, public education. This requires effective two-way communication that carries the school district’s message to the public and vice versa.

Communication also means establishing a climate for change and continuous improvement.   The current system used to accredit schools in the state, Quality Performance Accreditation (QPA), is a performance-based system.  Schools are accredited primarily on performance, not on inputs, such as the number of books in the library or the credentials of the staff.  It relies on collecting state assessment results and other data to determine if all students, including certain student subgroups, are showing improvement.  Schools that fail to demonstrate improvement over a period of time can be subject to sanctions.  Federal legislation, passed in January 2002, requires even more accountability measures to ensure all students are learning the necessary material at an acceptable rate.  Student achievement must be the focus of the board’s efforts.
Boards also need to work in the framework of a continuous improvement model.  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.

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.

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.

A board member should also be skilled at making decisions. Each member must remember, however, decisions binding the school district may only be made by a majority of the entire board at a public meeting. Individual opinions can and should be defended vigorously, but once the board has made a decision, it should be accepted gracefully and implemented wholeheartedly. No individual board member may bind the board of education to a course of action.

Effective board members establish good working relationships with the superintendent and with their colleagues on the board.  They understand and appreciate their role as the leadership team of the district and work together to improve the educational system.

Membership

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.
Legal Qualifications

School board members must be registered voters in the school district and cannot be an employee of the board on which they are a member. If board members are elected from certain areas of the district rather than at-large, they must live in the area of the district from which they are seeking office. School board members serve staggered four-year terms, so the entire board is not up for election at the same time.

Filing for Office

There are two ways to file as a candidate for election. The first is to file a declaration of intention to become a candidate and to pay a $5 filing fee to the county election officer of the county in which the district is located.  A person may also become a candidate by filing a petition with the county election officer.  The petition must contain signatures of 50 registered voters residing in the member district or geographic area from which the board member is to be elected or (with the exception of individuals running for at-large positions) 10 percent of such electors, whichever is less.  No Candidate may withdraw their candidacy after the filing deadline.
Campaign Finance, Governmental Ethics and Oath of Office Responsibilities

Most candidates for school board generally neither spend large amounts of money or accept large contributions. However, they do have responsibilities under Kansas campaign finance laws.

If a candidate intends to spend a total amount or value of less than $500 in either the primary or general election, he or she must file an affidavit stating that intent with the county election officer of their home county, usually the county clerk.  That affidavit also notes he or she intends to receive contributions of an amount or value of less than $500.  The affidavit must be filed no later than nine days prior to the primary election.

If he or she has signed such an affidavit and incurs expenses, exclusive of their filing fee, in excess of $500 or receives contributions in excess of $500, for either the primary or the general election, the candidate must file a more detailed report.

The report must be filed with the county election officer within 30 days after the primary and general election. It is to be an itemized statement of all expenditures the candidate made or obligations contracted or incurred in connection with the primary or general election. The report also needs to include the name and address of each person who contributed more than $50 with the amount and date of the contribution. These obligations also apply to a person who is working on behalf of a candidate. Candidates for Wichita USD 259 have unique standards and a different timeline for filing reports.

Candidates also have to file a statement of substantial interest. It must be filed within 10 days of the filing deadline and is filed where the declaration of candidacy was filed. The statement details business holdings that may cause a successful candidate to be required to declare a conflict of interest on a board motion. Winning candidates need to have on file with the county election officer the oath of office within 10 days of the election or not later than five days after the issuance of the certificate of election, whichever is later.