Local School Boards
Welcome to public school board membership. Regardless of the number of years spent in public schools as a student or a parent, there will still be a steep learning curve for those new to the school board. This publication provides information that individuals will need to serve effectively on a public board of education.
Our state's constitution authorizes local boards of education to establish and maintain public schools. There are only two types of public school systems in Georgia:
- County systems were created by the state constitution and are political subdivisions of the state.
- Independent city systems were created by local charters. Establishment of additional independent or city school systems is now prohibited. Independent city systems should consult their local charters to determine the authority of the local board of education to own property, levy taxes and issue indebtedness.
Local School Board Authority
The state constitution requires that an elected school board oversee each school system. Members of a local school board are to "manage and control" and to make decisions on almost every aspect of public school operations. Many of the day-to-day responsibilities for which school boards are responsible generally are delegated to the superintendent. However, responsibilities of a public school board also include, but are not limited to some that cannot be delegated, such as:
- Buying and selling school property (including the power of condemnation)
- Calling elections to authorize a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST)
- Calling bond elections to authorize the issuance of bonded debt, and
- Reorganization and consolidation of schools within their control
- Authority to hire employee on the recommendation of the superintendent
- To examine further what Georgia law says about local school boards, their roles and responsibilities, refer to GSBA's eBoardsmanship.
The Board's Role
Most documents discussing the roles and responsibilities of school board members spend a great deal of time trying to identify the line between the responsibilities of the school board and those of the superintendent. This booklet will do that too. However, while it is important for everyone to understand what their responsibilities are, it is of even greater importance for the school board and their superintendent to form a cohesive leadership team. Throughout this manual you will be brought back to this theme because a collaborative relationship between board members and the school system's administrators is essential for the welfare of students.
Georgia law says that the board's legal functions include:
- Hiring and evaluating the superintendent
- Hiring and assigning all employees upon the recommendation of the superintendent
- Sitting as a court to decide local controversies involving school law
- Dismissing and suspending employees recommended by the superintendent
- Approving the local budget for submission to the state board of education
- Levying the local educational millage rate to support the approved budget
- Caring for all school system property including purchase, construction, lease, repair and sale of such property (This may not apply to all city systems. Check your local charter.)
- Approval of all contracts binding the local school system (In order to make the business of the school system function more effectively, many school systems delegate a portion of this authority to the superintendent and/or the finance director through local policy. However, the board still must give final approval to such contracts.)
- Making the policies and rules necessary to govern the school system
- Adopting a plan for the assignment of pupils (This includes establishing, reorganizing, consolidating, and closing of schools as well as determining which grade levels are assigned to each school.)
- Insuring that the superintendent, principals and other employees handling school money are bonded
- Sitting as an appellate court in student disciplinary matters.
These legal functions of a school board are important and may consume a great deal of school board time and energy; however, there are other roles for the school board to play that may be even more important in assuring school system success. It is the responsibility of the school board to ensure that the school system is run well. A school board does this by forming an effective relationship with its superintendent. Guidelines for forming such a relationship are discussed in Chapter 4.
Board as a Court
The "judicial" role of the board is to serve as a tribunal or school law court in order to resolve local matters of school law when specifically authorized or required by Georgia law. Examples include:
- A board must conduct a hearing when the superintendent seeks to terminate the employment of an employee who has a contract for a definite term or when the superintendent has not recommended the rehiring of a "tenured" employee and that employee has demanded a hearing under the Fair Dismissal Act.
- The board may be required, under certain circumstances, to convene a hearing to determine if the superintendent's decision with regard to other employment issues was based on an illegal reason.
- The board also serves as an appellate tribunal when students appeal the results of student disciplinary tribunal proceedings, but in these situations the board only reviews the record created by the disciplinary tribunal to determine the sufficiency of the evidence.
- Finally, the board serves as a tribunal to hear and determine "any matter of local controversy in reference to the construction or administration of the school law." (O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1160) The courts have not defined with exactness which local controversies involve the construction or administration of school law. Rather, a survey of the cases reflects that the board has a duty to conduct a hearing when the dispute involves allegations that the legal rights of individuals within the school system have been violated due to a misinterpretation or application of school law.
School Board Attorney
Each local board of education in Georgia should have a school board attorney to handle school system legal matters.
School board attorneys are not members of the board. Determining what decision the board should make is solely within the discretion of board members. The major advisors in such matters should be the superintendent and school staff. An important prerequisite for the proper use of a lawyer's services is to clearly establish the difference between legal advice and administrative advice on the substance of a policy or operational matter. The proper role for a school board attorney is to find the law related to a decision, explain it to the board, present options for decisions in light of legal considerations, and define legal problems that may arise as a consequence of board decisions. It is the role of the superintendent and the administrative staff to provide managerial advice about policies, practices and operational matters.
State Board of Education
The Georgia Constitution establishes the state board of education and empowers it to adopt policies, rules and regulations as necessary to implement all public school laws and to assure efficient operation of the public schools. State law requires the state board to establish and enforce standards that assure, to the greatest extent possible, quality educational opportunities for Georgia's students.
The state board:
- Prescribes a minimum course of study for all public schools receiving state financial aid
- Administers the distribution of the state's money to local school systems
- Prepares a state budget recommendation for public schools for the governor and legislature
- Supervises the Georgia Department of Education
- Participates in studies to determine the need and location of public school buildings
- Reviews plans for financing school construction
- Sets the safety and education requirements for school buildings
- Conducts health and safety inspections of school buildings
- Sets the minimum standards for school buses, approves certification requirements for school bus drivers, and sets their minimum salary schedule
- Allocates money for educational research and development of curriculum materials and suggested methods of instruction
- Serves as the "court of appeals" for any decisions made by local school boards on a hearing.
The state board of education is composed of 13 members, one from each congressional district. They are appointed by the governor to serve seven-year terms. Each member of the state board is required to hold an annual meeting in his or her respective congressional district to hear testimony from interested citizens and educators within the district regarding the performance and problems of public education within the congressional district.
The state board's chief executive officer is the State Superintendent of Schools, who is elected by the people every four years in the same year that the governor is elected. The state superintendent is expected to function in a leadership role with the state board. The state superintendent is the leader of the Georgia Department of Education, which serves as the administrative arm of the state board. The department of education implements and enforces state and federal laws and state board rules. The state board, the state superintendent and the department of education serve as a link between the federal government and local school systems. Federal program dollars are directed through the department of education, which in turn has the responsibility to see that local boards use federal funds in compliance with the program's regulations.