Guest Commentary

School board members receive no pay, but there are other rewards

Nearly 2,000 Kansans serve their communities as members of local school boards. Noon on June 3 is the deadline to file to run in this fall’s general election for local municipal offices, including school boards.

Under the Kansas Constitution, public schools are to be “maintained, developed and operated by locally elected boards.” Except for the Fort Leavenworth military base, all 286 school districts have seven board members, from districts with fewer than 100 students to nearly 50,000. Some are elected at-large by the entire school district, and some are elected by smaller areas within the district, depending on the voting plan the community has adopted.

It is a heavy set of responsibilities – and board members provide it for free. Under state law, school board members are the only public officers who cannot receive a salary. However, most board members say it is one of the most rewarding things they have done (especially when they shake hands with graduating seniors and knowing they have helped prepare those students for the next chapters in their lives).

According to the Kansas Association of School Boards, boards direct the school district in seven ways:

Policy Boards adopt policies that are really the “laws” of the district, setting out how things are supposed to operate. These policies must comply with state and federal laws and regulations.

Handbooks Boards approve guidelines for students and employees, such as standards of behavior and discipline procedures.

Directive to the superintendent With recommendations from the superintendent and other staff, boards make decisions about hiring personnel, contracts, curriculum and textbooks, and student programs.

Evaluation of the superintendent The board regularly evaluates the superintendent as chief executive of the district, both formally and informally. Evaluation covers such areas as communications with the board, district and community; strategic goals; leadership of staff; financial management; and policy development.

Goal Setting The board sets the long-term vision for the district, adopts policies and allocates resources to achieve that vision, evaluates the results, and makes changes as necessary.

Negotiations Under state law, boards conduct formal negotiations with teachers over wages and working conditions, usually each year, if teachers choose to have a bargaining association.

Allocation of resources Based on state and federal funding, and with local authority to set certain taxes and fees, boards adopt an annual budget and determine the allocation of funds for instruction, support for teachers, student assistance like counselors and nurses, building operations and maintenance, transportation, food service, building and district administration, facilities construction and debt payment.

School boards can make many choices in these areas, but they also must follow a wide range of state and federal requirements. These requirements determine how much they can tax and spend, student and employee rights, hiring and personnel requirements, and standards for program accreditation and quality.

School boards are responsible not only for meeting basic financial and legal requirements, but for ever-growing expectations for student success. These include basic academic skills, graduating from high school, preparing for college or technical training, job skills, civic engagement and leading happy, healthy lives.

As a result, a key challenge of any board member is to rise above personal interests and perspectives to see and support the interests of the entire district; not just “my” children, schools, programs and progress, but all “our” children, schools, programs and progress.

To learn more about running for school board, go to www.kasb.org or talk with a current board member.

Mark Tallman is the associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards
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