Many of us know that if we want to see things change, the best place to begin is with the elected body that sets your school policies. This is the School Board. Local school boards yield tremendous power over all schools. If a school is not focused on Education, Budget, Board Governess and Curriculum, the school will not function well.
First, the basics
Across all schools, across the nation, school board members comprise the nation’s largest body of elected officials.
After the school board members are elected, the school board, together, makes almost all of the important decisions related to education in their district. They oversee a large portion of the county budget.
The school board is only accountable to voters in their county. While they do have to adhere to the standards for testing and assessments set forth by the state board, they are not held accountable to them.
The school board is responsible for hiring the Superintendent, who is hired to run the operations of the school district. The school board is supposed to exercise oversight in a way that is consistent with the community.
Even though school boards have so much power over the schools, typically there is low voter turnout for school board elections. Very prevalent today, in school board meeting rooms across the country, we are seeing that the school boards are at odds with the values and priorities of the community – and so it is important that community members know who is on the ballot and vote with purpose in order to prevent activist schools boards from doing what they can do and do what the should do.
All school boards should be primarily focused on providing students with the gold stand in world class education. The pursuit of academic excellence for all students should be the primary focus of any school board. There should be insurmountable evidence to the fact that the school board’s number one priority are their students. Go to school board meetings to hear discussions regarding policies and be sure to read the Board Documents to know what the Board is discussing
All students need support; and it is the school board’s main purpose is to ensure each student has a path to success..
Increasingly, we are finding that this is not the case. Instead, the Academics has been replaced by “Advocacy” by an activist school board who no longer focuses on education, but political ideologies and private interest group agendas that have little to do with the academic success of students.
Parents and taxpayers are well within their rights to insist upon accountability in the board’s and superintendents performance in providing a quality education to their students, in a safe and welcoming school environment. Parents and tax payers can hold the Board and Superintendent accountable by attending school board meetings and making public comments, submitting written questions or requests for an open town hall to a school board member, or filing a freedom of information action (FOIA) request.
The ultimate form of accountability is nominating and electing school board members who reflect the will of the community, or recalling those board members who choose to defy the wishes and interests of the people.
B: Budget and Board Governance
The school board budget is made up of money from local, state, and federal taxes. Most of the money in the budget is intended to cover salaries. Employees and staff are the main cost. It is important to understand and ask the details about how salaries are allocated to specific schools, grades, programs, and initiatives. Knowing this information can help you gain clarity into if the budget is being spent on political causes or other initiatives that don’t meet the community’s values.
If you ever listened to a budget meeting, you will hear the Board and the Superintendent mention the “cost per student” dollar figure which is used to identify the cost of education in a community. It is important to note that the cost per student does not provide clarity on the priorities of the superintendent and school board.
You are the taxpayer who funds the schools, which gives you the right to see the budget and ask for budget details.
The Board sets it’s own parameters on when to meet, how often, for how long and what is on the agenda. You can garner insight on the Board’s priorities by taking a look at the agendas they create for their meetings.
While the school board is not governed by anyone other than itself, it is important that you provide oversight by watch or attending school board meetings to see how they are operating and getting insight to their priorities and how they are governing themselves. You can always use FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) to find out more information on any topic that does not pertain to minors.
A school board should post relevant agendas and documents for the public well in advance of meetings and adhere to open meetings (or “sunshine”) laws, as applicable, by making decisions in public.
If a local school board does not appear to be governing or functioning in a transparent way, the time has come for parents and community members to get together and demand clarity and accountability.
Curriculum is very important. And you have every right to transparency as it relates to Curriculum. What are students learning. Why are they learning it? Who is teaching it? How are they teaching it?
The current climate of education in the nation has seen certain curriculum areas come under attack. More school boards are cutting out advanced studies in math and science, They are overhauling history curriculmare actively placing magnet programs and schools, history curriculum, and accelerated or advanced studies in math and science either on the chopping block or having them overhauled. These efforts seek to eliminate or alter curriculum under the guise of objectives such as “anti-racism,” to advance “equity,” or to advance other political agendas.
It is important to remember that the authority for approving curriculum lays squarely with a local school board. While the state board of education may have standards that have to be met or upheld, the decision rests on the vote of each school board member to accept or reject the recommendations of the superintendent.
Inquiring what children are taught in a local school or district should be a relatively simple exercise. The degree of accountability and transparency the school board demonstrates will be evident in the degree of ease of access parents and members of the public have to the curriculum materials, pedagogical practices in curriculum delivery, and individual student achievement.
Parents and the community at large should be proactively informed about the curriculum and educational goals of the school board. Questions that arise from parents should be answered fully and without delay or obfuscation. Encountering pushback, or less than fulsome answers, should cue a parent to ask for a lot more details about what is being taught, how it is being taught, and why the students are learning the selected curriculum.
D: Engaging – or Becoming – Your Local School Board
Understanding and addressing education in the classroom begins with parents getting involved with their local school board. By attending or watching their meetings, the competencies of a school board are revealed. How does the board focus its time, direct its superintendent, interact with the public, spend the taxpayer’s money, and respect the voice of parents and the community they represent?
Every election season gives parents an opportunity for a reset if education is not going in the right direction in their community. An election season begins well in advance, with recruiting candidates, determining the best approach to issues, and then a campaign of turning out supporters for candidates whose election will create an opportunity for positive change.
The single most effective thing you and other concerned members of your community can do is get involved with your school board – and be empowered to run for the school board or help those that do so!