“Board members who have longevity in the role tend to benefit from the stability with new members bringing fresh ideas, innovative ideas to the board, and it’s best to have a balance of experienced and new school directors on the board.”
“School directors receive no compensation for their work, even though the position can require them to dedicate many, many hours to it.”
“The school board governs the school district and ensures the district is run well rather than running the district. The day-to-day operations of the school district is the superintendent’s job.”
“These decisions on raising property tax are typically made in consultation with the superintendent and business manager.”
“One way for community members to be familiar with school board decisions, especially if they’re interested in running in the upcoming election, they would want to review the district’s website for current and updated information, review the agendas and the minutes from past meetings. Become familiar with district policies.”
“It’s important that new school directors are onboarded properly because after all, when a new school board member comes on, it feels like you’re jumping on a moving train. So, you have to know what has happened in the past and where the district is going.”
Q: Let’s start with some basic information if we could. How are school boards formed and who can run for school board?
A: Great. So, a school board is a nine-member legislative body of citizens. They’re called school directors, and they’ve been elected by fellow citizens who serve as the governing body of each public school district. So, in Pennsylvania, school directors, they serve four-year terms. There is no limit on the number of terms a director can be reelected, and every other year, roughly half of the school board seats are up for election. So, this gives the community the opportunity to select new directors or to reelect the incumbents. So, board members who have longevity in the role tend to benefit from the stability with new members bringing fresh ideas, innovative ideas to the board, and it’s best to have a balance of experienced and new school directors on the board.
Now to run for school board, there’s minimum requirements. Citizens must be 18 years or older, be a resident of the school district for a year, in good moral character and they cannot be employed by the school district during their term or hold any other elected office position simultaneously.
Q: Now, you’ve described very well how they’re elected. Are school board directors paid or given a stipend for this elected position?
A: School directors receive no compensation for their work, even though the position can require them to dedicate many, many hours to it. However, various expenses incurred such as mileage, parking and tolls, they are reimbursable, but overall, it’s completely voluntary.
Q: That’s a significant volunteer contribution, I would say.
Q: So, the nine school board directors and the superintendent — that forms the leadership team of 10. Does the superintendent have the ability to vote as the school board directors do?
A: So, the elected school board with the superintendent, they do form the team of 10, which is the leadership of the school district. By law the superintendent is the tenth member of the board and has the right to speak on all matters before the board but does not have the voting capability.
Q: So, it’s those nine elected school officials that have the voting capability?
A: Yes. And the team of 10 has roles and responsibilities that make it an effective team to ensure that all students in the district receive a high-quality education. Lastly, there’s no individual authority as one member of the board. It’s done as a collective body, as a whole, a team of 10.
Q: Although there are leadership positions on the board, but they operate as a collective is what you’re saying.
Q: What are some of the areas of the school district operation that a school board is responsible for?
A: So, the school board governs the school district and ensures the district is run well rather than running the district. The day-to-day operations of the school district is the superintendent’s job. So overall the school board, they have a 30,000-foot level of the district while the administration is at ground level. So, they enact policies to implement goals, hire professionals to accomplish those goals and allocate resources to reach those goals. Boards are responsible for recruitment and evaluation of the superintendent, and they’re responsible stewards over the district’s finances and policies. So, a few other responsibilities in that, they approve items such as the school calendar, curriculum and textbooks.
Q: Who our school boards accountable to?
A: There are certain means for holding boards accountable. The community holds the school boards accountable. The state and federal government holds districts accountable and that’s through their auditing. Auditors are hired by the school district to examine finances on an annual basis. In addition, the Department of Auditor General conducts audits of this school district on a three-year rotation. And they are also shared with the district.
Q: And is there a governing agency that oversees the work of school boards?
A: Not per se, other than the Department of Education. And they’re also held accountable for student achievement, standardized tests and graduation rates.
Q: And what are some things that the public might not know about school board service or school board authority, what they have authority over? Do you think there’s anything kind of surprising in there that the public may not be aware of?
A: Yes. School boards have the authority to raise property tax. Each year they vote on a levy tax for the next fiscal year, following the approved budget of the district. The board approves the budget that determines the anticipated revenue. The school board also must collect enough revenue to balance the projected expenses in the budget. So balanced budget is required by Pennsylvania law. These decisions on raising property tax are typically made in consultation with the superintendent and business manager. The school boards are required to pass their budget no later than June 30.
Q: You talked a bit about the sort of difference between the role and responsibility of the superintendent or administration of the school administrator level and the school board. Do school boards have authority over individual hirings or staffing decisions? Is that part of what the school board directors become directly involved in?
A: The school board’s only person that they would hire is the superintendent. They are in charge of hiring the superintendent and assistant superintendent.
Q: Okay. But not teachers, not educators and not office staff, things like that?
A: Correct. And they don’t evaluate those individuals’ performance either. It’s strictly just superintendent and/or assistant superintendent.
Q: What do you think some of the biggest challenges school board directors in Pennsylvania are facing right now? We know that this has been an extremely unique and highly challenging year. So, can you think of some of the biggest challenges that are going on right now?
A: Right now, Annette, the big things that districts are faced with is online learning capabilities for their district, learning loss due to COVID-19, teacher shortage, especially with teachers with specialty certificates and also substitute teachers we’re finding is very challenging right now to staff their districts. And lastly, the migration of students to cyber and charter schools.
Q: That’s a big one. Yeah. That’s a big one. So, we know that the community members elect the school board directors and that relationship between community and school board is very important because the school boards are serving the community. How can community members effectively connect with their school board or voice their opinions, let’s say, on an agenda item or just other issues? Is there a way that they can effectively be connecting with school boards, their school board?
A: If a citizen wants to contact the school board member and discuss certain topics, their email address is usually on the district’s website. The citizen can contact the board member. Also, if you see board members out in public, and that is an opportunity to talk about different issues that the individual might be interested in learning more about. But one way for community members to be familiar with school board decisions, especially if they’re interested in running in the upcoming election, they would want to review the district’s website for current and updated information, review the agendas and the minutes from past meetings. Become familiar with district policies.
Q: With the November elections around the corner, what does this mean for school boards with certain seats open and others that may be un-contended or not? How does PSPA support this transition? So, let’s first talk about what does that transition mean for the school boards and then is there a way that PSPA helps this transition?
A: It means that school boards majorities can shift. And it’s important that new school directors are onboarded properly because after all, when a new school board member comes on, it feels like you’re jumping on a moving train. So, you have to know what has happened in the past and where the district is going. And PSBA, as the first approved provider of the required school director training, we have numerous online courses. We have a Start Strong program as well, and we offer various workshops that would go over comprehensive planning, facilities management, superintendent evaluations, just to name a few.
Q: So just to kind of clarify that point. While school board officials are citizens, they are the everyday citizen of a community. And so, what you had just highlighted is there is some required training that takes place as well as probably a myriad of optional training that a school director can take part in to prepare themselves for the role.
A: Yes. And PSBA is offering onsite, live training across 10 different locations across Pennsylvania for these new school directors that will be appointed in November or elected in November and start in December. And also, there’s required training for reelected or directors.
Shane Pagnotti, director of member services
Shane Pagnotti is the director of member services at PSBA. Prior to joining PSBA, he worked in higher education administration. Shane holds a Master of Business Administration from Misericordia University and is a graduate of Leadership Wilkes-Barre Core and Advanced Leadership Certificate programs. Shane is also a coach and the president of his local little baseball program.