What Is a School Board: An Exploratory Overview

<span>What Is a School Board: An Exploratory Overview</span>

Politics. Elections. What is your gut reaction right now? Don’t change the channel, click to the next article or shut it off! Why? With all the hysteria around state and national elections, the importance of what it might personally mean to you may get lost.

There is one election that directly influences you and your community. Yes, you can directly impact your neighborhood by understanding the role of your local school board. Every state may be slightly different in how the responsibilities are handled, but one thing is certain: 

School boards afford a prime opportunity for parents, taxpayers and citizens to make their voices heard in education policy; this may be through curriculum, school choice and values that the school teaches the students. These parameters can affect you and future generations of our country. This is why you must pay attention. 

Mr. James Fogarty, executive director of A+ Schools, believes that how a community supports public education and how we support children matters immensely to our economy and our civil society.1 Therefore, no matter your view on public education, politics or elections, this article may help you feel more comfortable and be informed in your understanding of the function of a school board and how you can “MAC” it work for you.

In This Article:

What Is a School Board? Why Is It Important?

Other names may include the board of education, board of directors or school committee — they all basically mean the governing body of a school district. For example, the Alhambra district in West Phoenix, AZ has five members who serve without pay and are elected by the citizens in the district to four-year terms.2 This governing board makes the policies by which the schools operate and approves hiring staff to enforce those policies. They have a great responsibility in hearing all the sides, and figuring out what is best for students.

School board members are often considered to be one of the largest groups of elected officials in the nation.3 With 17,000 charter and public schools in the country serving almost 52 million K-12 students, there are over 90,000 school board members currently in our country.4

What Does the School Board Do?

A school board helps to determine educational policy and administrative procedures in a school district. Acting as one unit, the school board members oversee much of the local budget for that city or town. Ideally, everything board members do is dedicated to ensuring the best education possible for every child in their community.

What Does a School Board Member Do?

As to the individual responsibility of a school board member, it’s truly a personal commitment. A member must have the ability to listen critically and objectively, do the necessary research, pursue continuous learning, and be willing to discuss with all parties involved before making any changes or decisions. However, decision-making is done by the entire board and not by any one individual. 

School boards are typically tasked with being attentive and receptive to the values, beliefs and priorities of their community. They carry out this responsibility by executing key functions, such as:3

  • Set forth a distinct vision and elevated standards for excellent education that fosters robust student achievements.
  • Set practical guidelines for transforming its vision into reality.
  • Demonstrate and share responsibility with educators for the performance of the district’s schools and students.
  • Hear and address the concerns of a community while articulating the district's priorities to the public.

School Board Responsibilities

The school board as a whole has many responsibilities, but these do vary from state to state. According to Masterclass (2021), these school board responsibilities may include:5

  • Hiring the superintendent and assistant: This person(s) is in charge of implementing the vision for a school’s district.
  • Policymaking: The board must create and then implement their district’s policies such as the markers of performance for students and ensuring school procedures are complying with federal and state laws. 
  • Curriculum approval: They approve the curricula and course materials.
  • Budget approval: When the state government allots district money, the school board allocates this annual money and decides how it is spent in the school’s day-to-day operations.
  • School calendar: The calendar, including holidays and school closure events, is set by the school board. For example: Snow days or power outages.
  • Community activism: They should advocate for the community's educational needs. This means holding regular meetings to hear from local parents, teachers, as well as influencers from the surrounding communities.

“MAC” It Work for You

Your vote matters, and especially when you think about the school in your neighborhood. You can “MAC” it work for you in three ways:

  1. Money
  2. Accountability
  3. Curriculum

M: Money

How is the pot of money they control being spent?

Local, state and federal taxes source the school board’s budget.6 When the board receives this money, they allocate it to salaries for the employees and staff. Clarity is needed as to how the salary money is allocated. Moreover, it may behoove a community member to understand what is behind the saying “cost per student” and this allocation of funds. If clarity is not given, or there seems to be hidden agendas present, then it is time for communities to request increased accountability.

A: Accountability

Are they holding to what they say?

We want our students and our neighborhoods to thrive. Therefore our students must be thriving. Since local school boards do not report to the state board for accountability, their only accountability source is the local voters in that community. As previously mentioned, the primary objective of a school board is to guarantee that every student has a route to achievement. One would hope that the members would reflect the desires of the community.

The most significant measure of accountability lies in the nomination and election of school board representatives who align with the community's aspirations, or in the removal of those board members who disregard the desires and concerns of the populace.6 And this means the community is aware of and accepts the curriculum taught. 

C: Curriculum

What are the students learning?

What are pupils learning, what should they studying, and what is the reason behind their studies? Approval of the curriculum taught to our students is a crucial part of a school board’s role. While the state board of education sets standards that must be met, the school board can take or leave what the superintendent recommends. This is vital when it comes to understanding what students are learning.  

It should be clear and understandable what children are learning in a local school or district. Also, how easy is it to discuss this in open forums?  

Educational resources, teaching methods in curriculum implementation, and each student's performance should be readily available for parents and the community to discuss. Understanding the content, methods and rationale behind the curriculum is crucial. If there’s resistance, it might signal the need for increased engagement and participation.

School board elections typically have a low turnout.7 It is the obligation of that community to replace wayward board members with those who do not view schools as an opportunity to promote radical political activism. This means community members must get involved with their local school board. Each election cycle provides parents and the community with a chance to recalibrate if education in their locality is not progressing as desired. This is where the saying, "'MAC' it work for you," comes from.

Embark on Grand Canyon University's Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction program and gain insights that may be vital for influencing educational policies and practices. Learn how school boards operate, influence curriculum decisions and make impactful contributions to shaping a progressive educational system. 

This degree can help you with the expertise to engage effectively with school boards, ensuring alignment between curriculum goals and community needs. Discover the dynamic relationship between educational leadership, curriculum development and the crucial role of school boards in fostering effective learning environments.


1 Tolliver, S. (2021, May 5). 6 reasons you should care about school board elections. Next Pittsburg. Retrieved on Dec. 20, 2023.

2 Alhambra Elementary School District. (n.d.). Alhambra Governing Board. Retrieved on Dec. 20, 2023.

3 The Great Schools Editorial Team. (2023, Dec. 14). What every parent needs to know about their school board. Retrieved on Dec. 20, 2023.

4 National Center of Education Statistics. (n.d.). Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved on Dec. 20, 2023.

5 Master Class. (2021, June 27). Understanding the Role and Responsibilities of a School Board. Retrieved on Dec. 20, 2023.

6 Parents Defending Education. (n.d.). It’s Time to Get Involved in Your School Board. Retrieved on Dec. 20, 2023.

7 Izard, R. (n.d.). Why Should You Care About Your Local School Board. My Faith Votes. Retrieved on Dec. 20, 2023.

Approved by faculty for the College of Education on Jan. 17, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

Scroll back to top