Board of Directors Role

A school board is a legislative body of citizens called school directors who are elected locally by their fellow citizens and who serve as agents of the state legislature. Each board consists of nine members who serve four-year terms of office without pay.

School directors, although locally elected, are really state officials, co-partners with the legislature. They are designated by school law to administer the school system in each district.

Constitutional mandate

Public education is fundamentally a state responsibility. A system of free public education is mandated under the state constitution, which states in Article II, Section 14: “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education. …”

Constitutional recognition of the public schools as a legislative function is further found in Article IX, Section 10, in which a school district is described as a “unit of local government.”

Public education thus enjoys special status under the state constitution and is the only public service so mandated by the constitution.

To carry out this mandate, the General Assembly created school districts and school boards in 1834. It conferred broad legal powers to the local boards, making them autonomous in many of their operations. Therefore, the school board is a political subdivision of the state for the purpose of convenient administration of the schools.

Legislative authority

The General Assembly created the State Board of Education, the Department of Education, the Intermediate unit structure and other state agencies. These agencies administer the state laws that control the state’s public education system. There are, therefore, several governing influences upon a board of school directors.

The School Laws of Pennsylvania is the primary compilation of the statutes enacted by the legislature having direct and pertinent reference to public education, its programs, its operation and its management. In addition, rules and regulation of the State Board, guidelines of the Department of Education, opinions and interpretations of the state attorney general and court decrees all influence local board operations.

Effective school boards concentrate their time and energy on determining what it is the schools should accomplish and enacting policies to carry out these goals.

In Pennsylvania

    • Public schools are a creation of the state constitution.
    • Public schools are a responsibility of the General Assembly, the legislative branch of PA state government.
    • School boards, created by the General Assembly, serve as local legislative bodies for the public schools within the framework of state laws.
    • A school board’s authority is applied through the collective decisions of the entire board acting as a governing body.

Board responsibility

In essence, school boards have three functions: planning, setting policy and evaluating results.

    • Planning—Boards are required to engage in strategic planning by regulations of the State Board of Education. Appropriate reports of the results of such planning must be filed with the Department of Education.
    • Setting policy—The central responsibility of a board, both in theory and in law, is to be the policy-forming body. Policy means actions of the board that set written goals and objectives for the school and parameters for actions.
    • Evaluating results—The board must evaluate the results of planning. Evaluation “completes the loop” and, in fact, leads inevitably to more planning. Evaluation occurs all the time, both formally and informally. As a group, the board is not an administrative body; neither should it be a “rubber stamp” for professional educators. The selection of competent administrators who understand their role is to carry out public policies established by the board is one of the board’s most important functions.

Principles of Governance and Leadership

Pennsylvania school boards are committed to providing every student the opportunity to grow and achieve. The actions taken by the board ultimately have both short and long-term impact in the classroom. Therefore, school directors collectively and individually will…

Advocate Earnestly

    • Promote public education as a keystone of democracy
    • Engage the community by seeking input, building support networks, and generating action
    • Champion public education by engaging members of local, state and federal legislative bodies

Lead Responsibly

    • Prepare for, attend and actively participate in board meetings
    • Work together in a spirit of harmony, respect and cooperation
    • Participate in professional development, training and board retreats
    • Collaborate with the Superintendent as the Team of 10

Govern Effectively

    • Adhere to an established set of rules and procedures for board operations
    • Develop, adopt, revise and review policy
    • Align decisions to policy
    • Differentiate between governance and management, delegating management tasks to administration
    • Allocate finances and resources
    • Ensure compliance with local, state and federal laws

Plan Thoughtfully

    • Adopt and implement a collaborative comprehensive planning process, including regular reviews
    • Set annual goals that are aligned with the comprehensive plan
    • Develop a financial plan that anticipates both short and long-term needs
    • Formulate a master facilities plan conducive to teaching and learning

Evaluate Continuously

    • Utilize appropriate data to make informed decisions
    • Use effective practices for the evaluation of the superintendent
    • Assess student growth and achievement
    • Review effectiveness of the comprehensive plan

Communicate Clearly

    • Promote open, honest and respectful dialogue among the board, staff and community
    • Encourage input and support for the district from the school community
    • Protect confidentiality
    • Honor the sanctity of executive session

Act Ethically

    • Never use the position for improper benefit to self or others
    • Act to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest
    • Recognize the absence of authority outside of the collective board
    • Respect the role, authority and input of the superintendent
    • Balance the responsibility to provide educational programs with being stewards of community resources
    • Abide by the majority decision
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