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Chapter 2 - Today's School Board Member

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Qualifications for Board Membership 

There are actually very few qualifications for school board membership. Board members should be willing to serve and must reside within the school system's political boundaries. In many instances, local laws prescribe additional qualifications such as residing within a particular ward or election district. Candidates for local board member positions on or after July 1, 2010 must file an affidavit with the elections officer affirming that he or she has read and agreed to abide by the board’s code of ethics and conflict of interest provisions and has agreed to annually disclose compliance with the State Board of Education’s training policy.

 
Georgia law provides more criteria for ineligibility for the office of local school board members than it does for eligibility.

A person is ineligible to hold the office of school board member if the individual is:
  • Not a resident of Georgia
  • Under the age of 21
  • Not a resident in the county in which the individual is seeking office for 12 months prior to the election or appointment
  • Serving on the governing body of a private elementary or secondary educational institution
  • Employed by the Georgia Department of Education or serving on the State Board of Education
  • Employed by the board of education the individual is serving on
  • The holder of another county office
  • A holder or receiver of public money that has refused to, or failed to, account for it or pay it over when asked
  • A convicted felon who has not been pardoned nor the subject of a restoration of rights
  • Of unsound mind or unable to discharge the duties of the office because of advanced age or bodily infirmity
  • An immediate family member of a person sitting on the local board or serving as superintendent, principal, assistant principal, or system administrative staff. “Immediate family member” is defined as a spouse, child, sibling or parent, or the spouse of a child, sibling or parent whose employment began on or after January 1, 2010.
 
Vacancies
 
The process for filling an unexpired term of a school board member is often defined by local legislation. If a school board does not have such local legislation, the process for filling the vacancy will be governed by state law (O.C.G.A. § 20-2-54.1) that sets forth the following procedures:
  • If the vacancy occurs more than 90 days prior to a general election preceding the general election where the successor was to have been elected to new full term, then the vacancy will be filled for the unexpired portion of the term remaining at a special election held at the same date as the upcoming general election. In this case, the remaining members of the board shall, by majority vote, select a qualified person to fill the vacancy until the person elected at such special election takes office.
  • If the vacancy occurs less than 90 days prior to a general election preceding the general election where the successor was to have been elected to new full term, then the remaining members of the board shall, by majority vote, select a qualified person to serve for the remainder of the unexpired term.
 
Oath of Office

Before assuming duties, local school board members take an oath of office, which is administered by a judge or other official authorized to administer oaths.  It reads:  
I, _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will truly and faithfully discharge all the duties required of me by law as a member of the Board of Education of_________ , to the best of my ability.  
I do further solemnly swear and affirm that I am not the holder of any public money due this state unaccounted for; that I am not the holder of any office of trust under the government of the United States (except postmaster), nor of either of the several states, nor of any foreign state, and that I am otherwise qualified to hold said office, according to the Constitution of the United States and Laws of Georgia, and that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of this state. So help me God. (O.C.G.A. § 45-3-1).

School Board Member Development
 
The State Board of Education has adopted a board member training program as required by Georgia law. Each local board, at a regular board meeting, must adopt and submit to the Georgia Department of Education a training program that includes, at a minimum, the state training requirements delivered by providers approved by the State Board. This must be done within three months of the adoption or revision of the program by the State Board. GSBA is an approved provider and offers numerous training opportunities that meet state requirements throughout the year at locations all over the state. Go to www.gsba.com for a current training schedule.
 
GSBA regularly sponsors a variety of training activities, including:
  • The New Board Member Orientation,
  • The Board Member Workshop,
  • The Board Chairman Workshop,
  • The Policy Workshop,
  • The School Law Seminar,
  • Board Roles and Responsibilities,
  • The Student Achievement Workshop,
  • Communications Workshop, and
  • Certain approved local workshops requested by individual school boards
 
Compensation and Expenses

The amount of compensation paid to school board members varies from system to system. The General Assembly may set the compensation of school board members by local act. School boards often get the General Assembly to pass legislation that affects only their school board by working with their local legislative delegation. If the General Assembly agrees to such local acts, school boards may set the compensation of school board members as they see fit. In any county where no local act has been passed, a general state law sets the amount board members may receive. For board members elected or appointed before July 1, 2010, state law establishes a "per diem" of $50 for each day of attendance at meetings of the board and while meeting and traveling within or outside the state on official board business. For board members elected or appointed after July 1, 2010, the $50 per diem is paid only for attendance at meetings as defined in the Open Meetings Act. Independent city systems are treated a little differently. In city systems with 4,000 or fewer students, where no local act has been passed, board members may be paid no less than $50 or more than $100 per day. It should be noted that payments designated as "per diem" and paid to local board members constitute wages. Therefore, as wages, they are subject to social security and income tax withholdings.
 
Board members may be reimbursed for actual expenses incurred in connection with certain training sessions or meetings or travel while representing the board. Authorization for per diem and expenses must be given in advance. These payments are to come only from local sources. Reimbursement of legitimate business related expenses is generally not considered wages and therefore does not require federal tax withholding.
 
Local boards may provide group medical and dental insurance for its members who elect to participate. The law [O.C.G.A. § 20-2-55(b)] limits the amount of the board's contribution toward the premium for such insurance.
For subscribers to GSBA eBOARD and the eLAW module, more information is available on what Georgia law says about roles and responsibilities and school board ethics. Go to your local eBOARD site. If your district subscribes to eLAW, it will be under the Legislation tab.

Responsibilities of the Office
 
Once an individual has been elected and officially sworn in, the real job begins. Becoming an active and effective member of the superintendent-school board team should be a new board members primary objective. Following these guidelines will smooth the way to more successful service:
  • Try to build better relationships and work as a team with other board members and the superintendent.
  • Refer all complaints through proper administrative channels and use the school board only as a court of last resort.
  • Ask for the facts you need to make a decision on an issue, but be reasonable in demands on staff time.
  • Be a good listener at board meetings and with constituents, but resist the temptation to commit the board or administration to action.
  • Do not interfere in administrative decisions and functions of the superintendent and staff.
  • Prepare yourself carefully before each meeting and never surprise other board members or the superintendent with last minute additions to the agenda.
  • Support and help the superintendent to be as effective as possible.
  • Vote in the best interests of students at all times.
  • Remember that public opinion is only one factor in decision-making.
  • Become well acquainted with school board policies. The reading will prove to be very informative about school system customs, culture and operational processes.
  • Realize that there will be times when changes must be made, when tradition cannot be honored and when public pressure must be ignored.
  • Remember the rules of confidentiality especially in decisions concerning personnel, students, attorney-client communications, land acquisitions and negotiations.
  • Represent the school system well through proper behavior and attitude.
  • Maintain your sense of humor.
  • Learn and practice the art of compromise.
  • Know how to sift through rumors and uninformed opinions to get a true picture of the situation.
  • Support the board's decision once it is made, even if you voted against it.
  • Don't represent what you have to say as an opinion of the board unless specifically authorized to do so.
  • Do not make commitments to school patrons before hearing both sides of the issue.
  • Trust other board members and act in a trustworthy manner.
  • Be willing to learn.
  • Abide by the code of ethics adopted by the board.
Ethics
 
As required by Georgia law, the State Board of Education has adopted a statewide model code of ethics for local boards of education. Each local board is required by law to adopt a code of ethics that includes, at a minimum, the state model, as shown below.
 
The _________County Board of Education desires to operate in the most ethical and conscientious manner possible and to that end the board adopts this Code of Ethics and each member of the board agrees that he or she will:
 
Domain I: Governance Structure
  1. Recognize that the authority of the board rests only with the board as a whole and not with individual board members and act accordingly.
  2. Support the delegation of authority for the day-to-day administration of the school system to the local superintendent and act accordingly.
  3. Honor the chain of command and refer problems or complaints consistent with the chain of command.
  4. Recognize that the local superintendent should serve as secretary, ex-officio to the board and should be present at all meetings of the board except when his or her contract, salary or performance is under consideration.
  5. Not undermine the authority of the local superintendent or intrude into responsibilities that properly belong to the local superintendent or school administration, including such functions as hiring, transferring or dismissing employees.
  6. Use reasonable efforts to keep the local superintendent informed of concerns or specific recommendations that any member of the board may bring to the board.
 
Domain II: Strategic Planning
  1. Reflect through actions that his or her first and foremost concern is for the educational welfare of children attending schools within the school system.
  2. Participate in all planning activities to develop the vision and goals of the board and the school system.
  3. Work with the board and local superintendent to ensure prudent and accountable uses of the recourses of the school system.
  4. Render all decisions based on available facts and his or her independent judgment and refuse to surrender his or her judgment to individuals or special interest groups.
  5. Uphold and enforce all applicable laws, all rules and regulations of the State Board of Education and the board and all court orders pertaining to the school system.
 
Domain III: Board and Community Relations
  1. Seek regular and systemic communications among the board and students, staff and the community.
  2. Communicate to the board and the local superintendent expressions of public reaction to board policies and school programs.
 
Domain IV: Policy Development
  1. Work with other board members to establish effective policies for the school system.
  2. Make decisions on policy matters only after full discussion at publicly held board meetings.
  3. Periodically review and evaluate the effectiveness of policies on school system programs and performance.
 
Domain V: Board Meetings
  1. Attend and participate in regularly scheduled and called board meetings.
  2. Be informed and prepared to discuss issues to be considered board agenda.
  3. Work with other board embers in a spirit of harmony and cooperation in spite of differences of opinion that may arise during the discussion and resolution of issues at board meetings.
  4. Vote for a closed executive session of the board only when applicable law or board policy requires consideration of a matter in executive session.
  5. Maintain the confidentiality of all discussions and other matters pertaining to the board and he school system, including discussions of in executive session of the board.
  6. Make decisions in accordance with the interests of the local school system as a whole or no part agreement thereof’.
  7. Express opinions before votes are cast, but after the board voted, abide by and support all majority decisions
 
Domain VI: Personnel
  1. Consider the employment of personnel only after receiving and considering the recommendation of the local superintendent.
  2. Support the employment of persons best qualified to serve as employees of the school system regular and impartial evaluations of school system staff,
  3. Comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations and all board policy regarding employment of family members.
 
Domain VII: Financial Governance
  1. Refrain from using the position of board member for personal or partisan gain or to benefit any person or entity over the interest of the school system.
 
Conduct as Board Member
  1. Devote sufficient time, thought and study to the performance of the duties and responsibilities of a member of the board.
  2. Become informed about current educational issues by individual study and through participation in programs providing needed education training.
  3. Refrain from disparaging or disrespectful remarks about another board member.
  4. Take no private action that will compromise the board or school system administration.
  5. Participate in all training programs developed for board members by the board or the State Board of Education.
  6. File annually with the local superintendent and with the State Board of Education a written statement certifying that he or she is in compliance with this Code of Ethics.
 
Conflict of Interest
  1. Announce potential conflicts of interest before board action is taken.
  2. Comply with the conflicts of interest policy of the board, all applicable laws and Appendix B of the Standards document.
 
Upon a motion supported by a two-thirds (2/3) vote, the board may choose to conduct a hearing concerning a possible violation of this Code of Ethics by a member of the board. The board member accused of violating this Code of Ethics will have thirty (30) days notice prior to a hearing on the matter. The accused board member may bring witnesses on his or her behalf to the hearing, and the board may elect to call witnesses to inquire into the matter. If found by a vote of two-thirds of all the members of the board that the accused board member has violated this Code of Ethics, the board shall determine an appropriate sanction. A board member subject to sanction may, within thirty (30) days of such sanction vote, appeal such decision to the State Board of Education in accordance with the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education. A record of the decision of the board to sanction a board member for a violation of this Code of Ethics shall be placed in the permanent minutes of the board.
 
For subscribers to GSBA eBOARD and the ePOLICY module, Go to your local eBOARD site. If your district subscribes to ePOLICY, it will be under the Policies tab. To view policies other Georgia school systems have adopted concerning ethics for school board members, go to the "Other Systems" drop box on lower right side of your eBOARD site.

Accreditation
 
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) is one respected regional accrediting agency that verifies that member colleges, universities and K-12 school systems meet certain standards of excellence. SACS CASIaccredits most Georgia schools, although the Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC) also accredits a number of schools and/or districts.
 
SACS CASI accreditation is most often mentioned in the news media and carries a certain name recognition and "clout" as a means of assuring the public that schools are up to standard. However, a great deal more than public perception depends upon the school system having accredited schools. Accreditation also ensures that high school course credits will be accepted by other SACS CASI accredited school systems to which students might transfer. Further, the Georgia Student Finance Commission requires that students graduate from an accredited school in order to qualify for student scholarships. SACS CASI and GAC accreditation satisfies this requirement. Georgia law provides that “although there are many measures of the success of a local board of education, one is clearly essential; maintaining accreditation and the opportunity it affords.”

Occasionally, school boards have endangered their system's SACS CASI accredited status by venturing across the "line" that divides the roles of the school board from those of the superintendent. SACS CASI standards on Governance state that in order for a system to be accredited it must "permit the administrative team of the system to implement policies and procedures without interference." It also must "establish policies and procedures that recognize and preserve the executive, administrative and leadership prerogatives of the head of the system and the schools."

Georgia law provides a specific process for the Governor to remove local board members elected or appointed after July 1, 2010 if a school or system is placed on the level of accreditation immediately preceding loss of accreditation for board governance related reasons.
 

Copyright ©2006-2012 by the Georgia School Boards Association. All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced in any manner, in whole or in part, by itself or as part of a derivative work, nor may it be stored in any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the Georgia School Boards Association