What is the appropriate role of a School Board member? What is the appropriate role of the Superintendent in relation to School Board members?
In May 2010, former Gov. Sonny Perdue signed Senate Bill 84, landmark school board governance legislation in the making over more than two years. The legislation answered those questions and many others about school board service and its distinct role as it differs from other locally elected public office positions.
The legislation came as the result of the efforts of the Commission for School Board Excellence, a group of business leaders that held hearings and conducted research to come up with a set of recommendations for the best practices in school board governance. The effort was spearheaded by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and other educational and governmental organizations.
“SB 84 gives the state the ability to step in when a local school system’s accreditation is threatened," said Gov. Perdue. "This bill strikes the appropriate balance between local control and state intervention when a system is in crisis."
Included in the bill is legislation that:
- standardizes board ethics policies and board training;
- clarifies the law delineating the roles and responsibilities of superintendents and board members;
- creates minimum qualifications for board candidates;
- gives the state the ability to find responsible citizens to serve on school boards when existing members fail to serve the interests of their students.
- allows the Governor to remove school board members from their elected positions resulting from not abiding by the standards outlined in the law.
Key provisions of the Bill provide specific contrast between school board members and other locally elected public servants, as follows:
- local boards of education play a crucial role in setting the policies that lead to the operation and success of local school systems;
- school board members hold special roles as trustees of public funds, including local, state, and federal funds, while they focus on the singular objective of ensuring each student in the local school system receives a quality basic education;
- board duties require specialized skills and training in the performance of vision setting, policy making, approving multimillion dollar budgets and hiring a qualified superintendent.
- motivation to serve as a member of the local board of education should be the improvement of schools and academic achievement of all students.
The bill notes that service on a local board of education is important citizen service.
Given the specialized nature and unique role of membership on a local board of education, the General Assembly concluded that this elected office should be characterized and treated differently from other elected offices where the primary duty is independently to represent constituent views.
The General Assembly also noted that local board of education members should abide by a code of conduct and conflict of interest policy modeled for their unique roles and responsibilities.
Also, the legislative body concluded that although there are many measures of the success of a local board of education, one is clearly essential: maintaining accreditation and the opportunities it allows the school system’s students.
One of the most important provisions of the bill is the requirement that the State Board of Education shall adopt a training program for members of local boards of education and may periodically adopt revisions to such training programs as seem necessary.
As District 3 school board member, I appreciate the work of the Georgia General Assembly and others from the private sector who advised on development of the school board governance role that is so essential for all school board members to adopt.