Understanding the role of the school board versus the role of other elected officials can be difficult, so we have attempted to answer some frequently asked questions about school boards in general and the GCS Board of Trustees specifically.
How many people are on the school board? School boards usually range from 3 to 7 appointed or elected members. The GCS Board is comprised of 12 elected single-district members. Each member serves for four years, though the districts are staggered in such a way that six member seats are on the ballot every two years. Though each represents a particular geographic area of our school district, Board Members are charged with working in the best interest all students.
What do school boards do? School boards are unique because education is their only priority. Unlike the legislature and city or county council, education is not a line item on the school board’s budget, it is the only item.
The school board’s primary responsibilities are to:
- Set the vision and goals for the district
- Adopt policies that give the district administration direction to set priorities and achieve its goals including areas such as student assignment and student discipline
- Hire and evaluate the superintendent
- Adopt and oversee the annual budget
- Advocate on behalf of public education
School Board members are your neighbors, fellow church or club members, business owners, employees, property owners, parents, and friends. In other words, they are true public servants who make decisions that affect all students. Board members are accessible, service minded, and focused on helping our schools excel.
A typical school board meeting will include many business items, such as adopting/approving innovative courses, the sale and purchase of real property, personnel grievances, budgetary revisions, student expulsion appeals, audit reports, long range facilities planning to include the construction of new buildings and the expansion or renovation of existing facilities, and policies by which the school district is governed.
How often does the Board meet? Each month, except July, the Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees meets on the second Tuesday as a Committee of the Whole (COW) and on the fourth Tuesday in a formal Business Meeting. Items approved at the COW are forwarded to the Business Meeting for a final vote.
The Committee of the Whole on the second Tuesday begins at 9 a.m. and continues until the agenda is concluded, usually until 2 or 3 p.m. The Committee of the Whole agenda is divided into three parts – Instruction, Administration, and Building & Grounds. For each item on the agenda a presentation is made, followed by a period of discussion, questions, and answers. It is not uncommon for the Board to spend an hour or more on a single agenda item. Some of these items are for information only while others require a vote of the Board.
Board Members also meet as members of Ad Hoc committees. Additionally, they serve as liaisons to various community groups/committees, such as Communities in School and the Public Education Partners. Board Members are also expected to respond to calls and emails from constituents and to advocate on behalf of public education with other elected and appointed officials. A school board member who is passionate about serving children and supporting public education will discover countless avenues to work on behalf of the local school district and public education as a whole.
What makes a great board member? School board members make a positive difference when they are willing and able to listen to their constituents, communicate a strong vision for the district, and work with other board members and the administration to build consensus. No individual board member, not even the chairman, can exercise any administrative responsibility with respect to the schools or command the services of any school employee. In Greenville County Schools, the Board of Trustees supervises two people – the Superintendent and the internal auditor.
How does the board direct the school district? The board has numerous avenues for directing and governing the school district: policy making, budgeting, student assignment, strategic planning, the hearing of appeals by both students and employees, and through conversation at board meetings and formal motions that give direction to the administration. Think of the school board like the Legislative Branch of the Federal government - the school board makes policy, much like Congress makes law. They also have the ability to place a topic of conversation on the Board agenda for question and discussion, much like a Congressional hearing.
The district administration is most similar to the Executive Branch, which is composed of the President and the agencies he administers (i.e. Defense Department, Dept. of Energy, Health and Human Services, Education, etc.). The Executive Branch is responsible for implementing the laws passed by Congress and setting up systems that meet the requirements of those statutes. Likewise, the Superintendent takes the vision and policies of the Board and develops procedures and strategies for implementation. For example, if the Board sets as a goal that all students will be reading on grade level by the end of the second grade, it is up to the Superintendent and administrative staff to figure out the personnel, curriculum, procedures, and supports that are needed to make that goal a reality.
So what about the Judicial Branch, which in the Federal Government ensures that the laws passed by Congress are not unconstitutional and determines whether the Executive Branch’s implementation of the law is appropriate. In the school district, the Board makes policy, but also has a limited, judicial-like role. This primarily relates to both student discipline appeals and personnel grievances, which may come before the Board of Trustees if not resolved in an acceptable manner by the administration. The “real” judicial system also plays a part, since many school district decisions can be challenged in civil court.
To effectively govern and administer public education in a community, the school board and the district administration collaborate and partner to make their school district excellent. The administration is tasked with the day-to-day running of the schools, but the Board serves as both a champion and a watchdog, ensuring that policies, budgets, and personnel all align toward meeting the shared goals.