Questions and Answers about School Boards in Texas:

Who is responsible for public education in Texas?

·         The commissioner of education, the State Board of Education, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) guide and monitor public education in Texas. The State Board provides leadership and state level administration, and the commissioner and TEA staff work with the board to implement education policy. Texas has delegated much of the responsibility for education to the local school board. Locally elected school boards are political subdivisions carrying out a state function. Despite somewhat prescriptive state and federal law and State Board of Education rule, local school districts have significant latitude in governing the schools.

What is the primary function of the school board and its members?

·         School board members are the guardians of the public trust and, through the policies they make, are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of local public education. The board serves as the advocate for educational excellence for the community's youth and puts those interests first. The policies school boards make dictate the standards and philosophy by which schools are run and the criteria used to judge whether they are being run well. This responsibility often entails difficult choices, self-sacrifice, and exposure to public criticism. However, it also brings a great deal of personal satisfaction in sharing with parents, staff, and students their academic successes. This crucial responsibility and the closeness of trustees to the voters make the local school board the purest example of democracy our society presents.

What are the key roles and responsibilities of a school board?

·         Ensure creation of a vision and goals for the district and evaluate district success;

·         Adopt policies that guide district actions;

·         Hire a superintendent to serve as administrator of the district and evaluate the superintendent's success;

·         Approve an annual budget consistent with the district vision;

·         Communicate the district's vision and success to the community.

Who is eligible to serve as a school board member?

·         To be eligible for election, a local school board candidate must be 1) a registered voter in the district, 2) a resident of the district for six months before the filing deadline, and 3) a resident of the state for 12 months before the deadline.

Is there special training involved in being a school board member?

·         School board members are required by Texas law and State Board of Education rule to participate in three types of continuing education: an orientation to local district policy and to the laws affecting public education in Texas, and annual team building actively, taken in conjunction with the rest of the board and the superintendent; and a specified number of hours each year in areas of special need. Board members determine needs with their board annually by reviewing the Framework for School Board Development, a document that outlines the tasks an effective board performs in its governing capacity. Continuing education courses that address these needs are available through a variety of sources.

How are school board members elected?

·         Candidates run for numbered (not geographic) places and are elected by plurality (not majority). School board members serve three-year staggered terms so that the entire board is never up for election at the same time.

How do school boards make decisions?

·         A school board is a governmental body, so it can take action only by a majority vote at a legally called meeting. The individual board member's major responsibility is to study, evaluate, and, after due consideration, vote in the best interest of all students at such a meeting. A board member who attempts-without authorization-to speak for the whole board, direct members of the staff, or make other individual decisions is exceeding his or her authority.

Can citizens participate in school board meetings?

·         Many school boards allow citizen participation and have policies communicating how and when citizens contribute their input. Generally, the board sets aside 30 minutes for public participation and limits each speaker to five minutes. This permits the citizenry to give input while allowing time for important board business. This session should not be used by citizens to present complaints against school personnel.

Can citizens attend school board meetings?

·         School boards meet in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act and make public records available pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act and Texas Open Records Act. Citizens are welcome at all school board meetings, except in a few legally specified circumstances calling for closed meetings.

Are school board meetings the proper place to resolve complaints?

·         In general, employees, students, parents, and citizens should attempt to resolve complaints at the lowest possible administrative level. In most cases, this is with the principal or program director. If a complaint is not resolved at this level, the person making the complaint should submit, in writing, the complaint to the superintendent or designee, who will then set a date and time to confer about it. If, following the conference with the superintendent or designee, the complaint is still not resolved, the person may request the superintendent, again in writing, to place the matter on a school board agenda.

Are local school boards needed?

·         The U.S. Supreme Court has said education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Our system of local school districts and boards of education epitomizes representative and participatory government---citizens elected from their community making decisions about the educational programs based on community needs, values, and expectations. Local school boards also allow for community participation in that decision-making process. School boards not only represent the public, but also translate the needs of students into policies, plans, and goals that will be supported by the community.