6 Questions That Explain What Your Local School Board Is

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The school board.  Every American school district has one.  School boards are one of the features that set apart American public education from other countries.  

If you are like most people, you don't fully understand what a school board is and what it does - knowing a little bit about the school board can help you to navigate the school system.  You might even find that the school board would be a great place for you to be involved.  

Read on to get the 101 on school boards, using four W's and H format.

What Do School Boards Do?

The school board is the local organization that sets the policies, unique local curriculum, and major personnel decisions for the local school district.  School district superintendents are often hired by the school boards. Many school boards are also the main body responsible for hiring school principals and make the final decisions about hiring teachers. The school board is also in charge of maintaining school buildings and bargaining with teacher unions about pay, benefits, and work expectations.

Who is on A School Board?

School Boards are made up of local people who have been elected to the various leadership positions of their school board. They tend to reflect their local communities more than other elected bodies, like city or county councils. According the National School Board Association, 75 percent of school board members have a bachelor's degree or higher, consider themselves politically moderate, and have a  strong desire to improve student success. Most school board members are unpaid volunteers.

School boards are a type of local government. US schools are unique in that the local areas, or school districts, make the majority of decisions for schools. 

How Do I Get In Touch With My Local School Board?

Today many school boards try to make themselves easy to reach by informal means.  If you want to speak with the school board, you probably don't have to prepare a formal 3-minute speech and wait to speak at a public school board meeting, although you do have that option.  

Try looking at your local school district website for information about how to contact the school board.  You will probably find email and phone numbers.  Some school board members will make themselves available on social media sites, like Facebook or Twitter. 

You can also check the website or school newsletters for times when school board members will be meeting informally with people to hear community members thoughts on the school system.

School boards also will seek out members for various subcommittees and focus groups over differing issues. Examples of possible groups include a parent involvement board, curriculum over site groups, and local wellness policy groups. Joining one of these groups can be a great way to shape school policy over a topic you care about, or even to learn more about how the school board works before deciding to run for a board position.

The school board is usually not the right place to complain about a problem teacher or a specific school. Those complaints usually need to be made to school administrators or the district human resources department.

When Do We Choose School Board Leaders?

School board election details vary between different states and local communities. Most school board elections are held in the fall, on a different date than major elections.  Keeping school board elections separate from other elections is a way communities try to keep school boards from developing a political party system.  

School board members will have terms of at least one year, with many serving two or four-year terms. Some seats will become available on a staggered annual basis so that the entire school board isn't replaced all at once.

Where do School Boards Meet?

Sometimes they will meet at the main district building, but not always.  Highly formal board meetings, that are conducted by formal rules will need to be held in a place that is open to the community and while giving all board members a chance to sit on a panel to speak and vote.  Since school board members do a great deal of community outreach, almost any public place in your local community is a possibility for an informal meeting, including local schools, city halls, and libraries.

Why Do We Have School Boards?

The American public school system was originally completely based at the local level. Individual communities would come together and establish their own schools, choosing what to teach, when to teach it, where and how to manage school buildings and pretty much anything else that goes along with running schools.  

American public schools are still primarily run at the local level. Decisions about pay, curriculum choices, school calendars, and building upkeep are all managed at the local school board level. 

Why and When Would I Want to Talk With the School Board?

If you want to influence your local schools at the district level, the school board is the place to go. Recent years are seeing some major educational reforms -- how well those reforms help children in your community will depend greatly on developing good local policies. Input from parents and community members is key to implementing positive changes.

It is especially important for parents with a variety of backgrounds, each with their own unique children, to bring their viewpoints to school boards. Public schools serve all students in a community: rich, poor, middle class, of various ethnicities, ability levels, health concerns, family backgrounds and more.

A Word From Verywell

School boards may appear very formal. You may feel uncomfortable approaching your school board with your thoughts. Keep in mind that school boards are made of elected representatives - their purpose is to serve the public community. 

If you are passionate about education, if you want to help reforms to be successful, if you want to help select the new hires for your local schools, then the school board is the place for you. Whether you choose to send an email, join a committee, or run for a school board position, you can help your community work towards high-quality education for all students.

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