The authors describe a project of the California School Boards

Association to provide detailed descriptions of each board

function and to use these descriptions as the basis of a

comprehensive curriculum for training school boards.

Republished by permission of PHI DELTA KAPPA.  GJS.


Phi Delta Kappan, Jan 1994 v 75 n 5 p 391 (5).

Defining the leadership role of school boards

in the 21st century.(includes related article

on school board reform in West Virginia)



A study conducted by the California School Boards

Association concluded that school boards are both

essential and powerful, and therefore school board

members should be properly trained. Responsibilities

of the school board are defined and analyzed.            


Davis W. Campbell and Diane Greene



School boards - Powers and duties Organizations:

California School Boards Association - Research          

Full Text COPYRIGHT Phi Delta Kappa Inc. 1994

The authors describe a project of the California School Boards

Association to provide detailed descriptions of each board

function and to use these descriptions as the basis of a

comprehensive curriculum for training school boards.

Citizen oversight of local government is the

cornerstone of our American democracy.

It is the foundation that has lasted through the turbulent

centuries since our nation came into being, despite increasing

challenges to and demands on our local government systems.

Henry Brickell and Regina Paul list instances of the ways

we apply this particularly American idea of citizen control:


[Americans] use it for villages, townships, cities,

counties, states, regions, the nation.

We use it for sewers, police, roads, firefighting, rivers,

libraries, airlines, prisons, forests, the military 

every government function; all staffed by experts,

without exception; and all governed by civilians.(1)

School boards today govern a system that has higher and higher

expectations for its students, that must address a tremendous

diversity of student needs, and that by and large

is inadequately funded.

Furthermore, the full complement of the nation's social,

economic, and environmental ills appears at our

classroom doors in one form or another.

Maureen DiMarco, secretary of child development and education for

California and a former school board member, described the

complexity of the school board member's job in her

Southern California school district:

Take another look at what a school district and school board are.

My colleagues and I are the members of a five-member board of

directors of a $190 million annual corporation....

We're responsible for 4,500 employees at 67 different plants.

We negotiate annually with four - count them -

four different unions.

Our plant managers manage four to five times the number

of employees that [private sector] managers manage.

We're responsible for 38,000 units of production on an annual

basis, but we have a 13-year production cycle, rarely with

any of those products staying within our company for

the entire length of time.

We have no control over our raw materials.

We have to take all of them in the numbers in which they arrive

and in the condition in which they arrive, and all of our

products go out to the marketplace because we have no

backroom in which to discard our flawed and damaged merchandise.

Incidentally, on the side, we operate the second largest

transportation agency in [the] county.

We serve 22,500 meals a day.

We operate, if we're lucky, on a 2 to 3 percent fiscal margin.

We have more regulation than the worst nightmare

of a corporate attorney, and we're required to

provide supervision in over 89 languages....

I dare you to try to operate California business in the

manner in which we operate our public school system.(2)

In order to perform the job described by DiMarco, the

contemporary school board member must command a deep

understanding of governance in all its complexities.

However, even mastery of content is not enough.

Board members must also carry out their responsibilities in

an extremely difficult, politically charged environment.

They are expected to confront the community's economic and social

problems as they are reflected in the classroom, rise above

political pressures, and govern in a highly ethical and

professional manner.

The responsible exercise of power within the authority granted by

law is the ultimate challenge to any individual board member.

One would think that, after more than 200 years,

the specific elements of a local governing

board's role would be clearly defined.

With American democracy so dependent on citizen governance,

a consensus should exist on the proper role for citizen boards.

But, other than simplistic references to "policy"

versus "administration," no such consensus exists.

Quite the contrary.

While everyone seems to be clear about what boards ought not to

do, no agreement seems to exist about what they ought to do.


Because of the growing controversy and confusion surrounding the

role of school boards, the National School Boards Association

formed a task force, chaired by the executive director of the

California School Boards Association (CSBA), to develop a concise

definition of the governance responsibilities of school boards.

This definition is based on the premise that there are certain

core decision-making functions that are so fundamental to a

school system's accountability to the public that, in our

system of democracy, they can be performed only by

an elected governing body.

They are:

* the establishment of a long-term vision for the school system;


* the establishment and maintenance of a basic organizational

  structure for the school system, including employment of a

  superintendent, adoption of an annual budget, adoption of

  governance policies, and creation of a climate that

  promotes excellence;

* the establishment of systems and processes to ensure

  accountability to the community, including fiscal

  accountability, accountability for programs and student

  outcomes, staff accountability, and collective bargaining; and 

* advocacy on behalf of children and public education

  at the community, state, and national levels.

Although CSBA strongly supports this definition, it is clear

that further development is needed to provide sufficient

direction to individual school boards.

Accordingly, CSBA has launched a two-year project to expand

the definition of each board function and to use this more

detailed description as the basis of a comprehensive

curriculum for training school boards.

It is intended that this curriculum will represent a consensus

of school board members arid other educational leaders on the

role of school boards in the education system and will also

establish benchmarks or operating standards for the

various functions of school governance.

However, the project would be incomplete if it focused

only on the content of school boards' various roles.

After numerous interventions with boards and districts in

crisis, we have found that how a board governs is every

bit as important as the decisions a board makes.

In fact, the way a board governs affects its ability to come

to consensus about the direction for the district, its

effectiveness in establishing a positive climate that

achieves the best from its staff, and its credibility

as an advocate for the district and for children.

Equal emphasis on boardsmanship is essential

in the training curriculum.

The CSBA project is, therefore, divided into two phases.

Phase 1 of the project focuses on defining the "what" of board

governance, specifying the various jobs of the board.

Phase 2 introduces the "how" aspects to the discussion of board


Although the two phases are linear in a developmental sense,

they will be integrated in the final product.

Chris Bertrand, CSBA's assistant executive director of board

development and coordinator of the project, describes the

importance of this approach:

     "What makes this project unique is the integration and

     tailoring of effective boardsmanship principles

     to each of the job content descriptions.

Nowhere else has the way in which behavior influences a board's

effectiveness been so fully and honestly discussed."

The California School Boards Foundation has received grants

from the Stuart Foundations and from the Pacific Telesis

Foundation for the development of this curriculum.

Clearly, the importance of lay boards is recognized and

appreciated by those outside the education community.

Ensuring that boards are effective

in their roles benefits all of us.


For the purposes of study, we subdivided the four basic board

roles identified above into seven categories:

1)   setting the vision for the district and

     creating a climate for excellence,

2)   appointing and evaluating the superintendent,

3)   adopting the budget and ensuring fiscal accountability,

4)   developing curriculum standards and ensuring

     program accountability,

5)   governing through policy,

6)   collective bargaining, and

7)   advocacy.

Seven subcommittees of the CSBA board of directors were

established to define the specific functions and

responsibilities within each area.

     "The strength of this project is that our entire board

      of directors is dedicated to developing these role

      definitions, and it is their hard work and expertise

      that will allow us to successfully build a consensus

      about the board's role,"

said Charity Webb, CSBA president.

In addition to the board members, each committee has a number of

distinguished and highly respected educational leaders, including

superintendents, business officials, and educational consultants.

1.   Vision and climate for excellence.

     Of all the roles and responsibilities of school boards,

     none is more central to the purpose of local governance

     than ensuring that a long-term vision is established for

     the school system.

     The vision statement reflects the consensus of the

     governance team (the entire board and the superintendent)

     on what children need in order to achieve their highest

     potential and which educational programs will be offered

     to reach that ideal.

     The vision reflects the shared values of the community and

     the governance team and as such should drive virtually

     every aspect of the district's program.

     Providing direction for the district also includes a more

     subtle, but nonetheless real, board function - creating a

     climate that makes possible the achievement of excellence

     in the system.

     Much of what the board does to establish a climate for

     excellence emanates from the tone it sets individually

     and collectively.

     By setting fair but rigorous standards of performance,

     establishing well-considered policies, and treating

     its own members and others with dignity and respect,

     the board communicates a professionalism at the top

     that becomes a model for the entire school system.

2.   Superintendent appointment and evaluation.

     As the chief administrative officer, the superintendent

     is a vital part of the governance team and the key link

     in the chain connecting the board to the programs and

     activities of the school system.

     If the board and superintendent do not share the same

     vision, it is difficult to imagine making any real

     progress toward achieving the goals and objectives

     of the district's instructional program.

     The board must understand how to select the

     right superintendent for the district.

     The board's accountability function also mandates that

     the board be able to hold the superintendent accountable

     for achieving the districts goals.

     The board must establish an evaluation system that

     fairly measures progress toward goals.

3.   Budget adoption and fiscal accountability.

     Although strategic plans and mission statements are

     essential, the most important policy document in any

     organization is in truth the annual budget.

     How dollars are spent determines the real

     priorities in a district.

     Thus the board must adopt a budget that not only is fiscally

     responsible but also supports the vision of the district.

     The board also has ongoing responsibilities

     of fiscal monitoring and oversight.

     The board's part in holding the district staff accountable

     for achieving fiscal goals is an area that is currently

     ill-defined and one in which role confusion

     is likely to occur.

     The board must understand how to develop accountability

     systems that reflect its priorities and include

     agreed-upon, measurable benchmarks on which it can rely.

4.   Curriculum development and program accountability.

     The instructional program is the heart of any school

     district. Though the board has a role in the direction

     and adoption of overall educational goals and standards,

     its primary responsibility in this area is to objectively

     monitor the outcomes of the instructional program and to

     take action if the outcomes do not meet the established


     This accountability role for boards is often not

     clearly understood by either staff or board

     members in many districts.

5.   Governance and policy.

     Much of the debate and controversy over "micro-management"

     by governing boards is centered on the board's

     week-to-week or month-to-month role in the

     operation of the school district.

     Boards are required by law to adopt policies for

     the school district on a wide array of issues.

     Boards must understand the power of the policymaking role -

     how it derives from the community and drives everything

     in the district.

     The implementation of those policies, then, is clearly

     more appropriately the role of the administrative team.

6.   Collective bargaining.

     In California, collective bargaining agreements, along

     with board policies and the budget, are some of the

     most powerful governance documents in the district.

     School boards are the final decision makers

     on collective bargaining agreements.

     Thus it is essential that boards understand the short-

     and long-term effects of the specific provisions

     of these agreements.

     The board must understand its role in setting bargaining

     guidelines, selecting a negotiator, being familiar with

     different bargaining methods, deciding whether or not

     board members should sit at the bargaining table, and

     assessing the long-term financial implications of

     contract settlements.

7.   Advocacy.

     One of the least understood roles for board

     members is that of advocate.

     As the only locally elected officials chosen solely to

     represent the interests of children, school board members

     have a profound responsibility to speak out on behalf of

     the children in their community.

They must advocate for children and public education not only in

the community but also at the state and national levels; they

must make their views known to the media, civic groups,

legislators, parents, and others.

Board members must be advocates for improving the social,

economic, and emotional conditions of children as well

and must work cooperatively with other local entities

to see that conditions are improved.

Coordinating children's services is a major

priority in California.

CSBA has issued a comprehensive report on this issue,(3)

and school board members locally are taking the lead to

ensure that children are receiving required services.


The second phase of the project will focus on integrating

tenets of effective boardsmanship into the various

job descriptions for board members.

Over the years and after numerous interventions

in school districts, CSBA has identified a number of basic

characteristics that effective board members have in common.


* Effective board members have a clear understanding of their

duties and of their central, powerful role of providing

leadership to ensure the quality of education.

They are also aware that power flows from the community,

through them, to the school system and that they are

accountable to the community and the society at large.


* Effective board members understand the importance of teamwork.

  They realize that progress can be made only by the board

  as a whole and that no one individual board member has

  any authority outside of the governance team.


* Effective board members adopt a positive attitude

  in the conduct of their business.

  They exhibit support for the district's programs and staff,

  particularly in public, and work through established

  channels to effect change.


* Effective board members understand, appreciate, and respect

  the role of the superintendent, the district staff,

  and all other members of the community.

  They listen to their colleagues' and constituents' concerns.

  They realize that demonstrating a respectful attitude enhances  

the image of the board as a professional body and serves to

  build staff morale and a climate for excellence systemwide.


* Effective board members establish an environment of

  trust within the board and the district.

  They are confident that they have a staff

  they can rely on to do the best job.

  They have established an accountability system that enables

  them to concentrate on outcomes, not on methods and procedures.


* Effective board members understand the importance of

  open and honest communication with everyone.They

  recognize that clear communication about their

  expectations and desires is more likely to

  result in their goals' being met, while

  lack of communication can lead to

  mistrust, suspicion, and unmet goals.


* Effective board members carry out their responsibilities

  with a high level of professionalism.

  They understand that their behavior

  sets a tone for the entire system.

  They recognize that professional behavior by the board

  communicates the importance and the seriousness of their role.


* Effective board members operate with fairness,

  firmness, stability, and consistency.

  They establish policies, programs, and procedures that

  are fair and equitable to staff and students and

  operate in a stable and consistent manner.

  They understand that fairness promotes harmony and trust.


School boards are truly the leaders of local school systems.

The four-part definition of their responsibilities - setting the

vision, establishing a supportive structure, ensuring

accountability, and engaging in advocacy on behalf

of children - assigns them a powerful role.

It is clear from this definition that boards are

essential to the success of education reforms.

They have a responsibility to be the "truth tellers," to consider

the "big picture" in terms of meeting the needs of all

students in the district, and to initiate and enact

meaningful reforms that improve student outcomes.

In these ways, school boards are leading our

schools and our students into the 21st century.

Because boards are so powerful, board members need clear role

definitions and training to understand the complexities of

their job and to keep up with critical education

issues and new developments.

If boards are to demand excellence of others, they

must meet the highest standards themselves.

Unfortunately, the political climate in many communities

makes it difficult for boards to invest in

their own professional development.

However, it is unfair to expect a board member to step

onto the board the day after the election and know

everything there is to know about the board's role.

Improving the effectiveness of boards, therefore, may need

to begin with an acknowledgment that an effective board

contributes to the quality of education in the community

and that board members, like the staff, need and

deserve to participate in continuing education.

Increasing the level of awareness about the board's role is

important for board members, reformers, and the public.

School boards are an American institution and provide local

representation in a system that is of great interest and

importance to Americans - the one that educates our

children and prepares them to be productive citizens.

As an ABC News "American Agenda" segment concluded in April 1992:

     Most education reformers today say that good local school

     boards which get parents and community really involved

     are more important than ever, that they're the key to

     reform because the parents and community around each

     school have the greatest reason for seeing that

     the schools improve.

School Board Reform in West Virginia The strategy for

restructuring local school boards adopted by the West Virginia

School Boards Association (WVSBA) departs from the path followed

by other state associations in that it enlists state policy

makers as partners in the effort to achieve the

association's vision of reform.

The WVSBA dates its adoption of an activist strategy with state

officials to the mid to late 1980s, when increasing legislative

activity had a direct impact on local boards, altering their

roles in personnel decisions and reducing the length

of their members' terms from six years to four.

In 1990 the association's initiatives in school board

self-assessment and training were strengthened with

a $100,000 appropriation from the state that enabled

all 55 boards in West Virginia to participate in the

Institute for Educational Leadership's program for

board self-assessment and development

and to acquire additional raining.

This phase of school board improvement efforts culminated in the

governor's endorsement and the legislature's passage of a bill

requiring school board training focused on "boardmanship and

governing effectiveness."

Training, which is monitored by the state board of education

but delivered by WBSBA, emphasizes he development

of boards as corporate governing bodies.

Following hard on the heels of the legislation requiring school

board training, House Concurrent Resolution 30 was unanimously

adopted by the West Virginia House of Representatives.

The resolution was designed to determined how school boards

could be made more effective, and four studies were

undertaken for that purpose.

These studies used different methodologies to ascertain

1)   how local boards spent time,

2)   in which of their roles and responsibilities boards

     themselves identified strengths and weaknesses,

3)   citizen and state policy maker's views on the roles

     and effectiveness of boards, and

4)   what would have to change in order to restructure boards

     to overcome any deficiencies identified

     in the first three studies.

This final study would have the effect of focusing West Virginia

school boards on the process of policy making -

turning them into policy boards.

The most recent legislation, H.B. 2160, was passed in 1993

and is scheduled to be implemented by August 1994.

It has the avowed purpose of restructuring boards so that

they become well-informed, responsive, policy-making bodies.

The success of the legislation will depend to a great degree on

the commitment of school board members to apply what

they learn during the mandatory training.

However, the legislation also requires certain changes

in the responsibilities of boards that are intended

to help alter their governing behaviors.

The legislation requires local boards to develop connections

with external and internal constituencies (i.e., school system

staff members) and to establish policies that are based on data

that these sources supply about district needs.

The strategy employed by the WVSBA reflects its commitment to

take the lead in restructuring local boards and to join with

the critics of school boards in developing solutions to the

problems of local school governance.

The WVSBA played a major role in defining and making public the

problems of its member boards.

Admittedly, this is very risky business for membership


However, WVSBA leaders and a majority of the membership decided

that doing nothing not only posed greater risks, but also

diminished the possibilities for gaining support

to strengthen the board's governing capabilities.

(1)   Henry M. Brickell and Regina H. Paul, Time for Curriculum

      (Alexandria, Va.: National School Boards Association, and

      Chicago: Teach'em, Inc., 1988), p. 9.

(2)   Maureen DiMarco, speech delivered at CSBA New Board Member

      Institute, Sacramento, 1990.

(3)   Cutting Through the Red Tape: Meeting the Needs of

      California's Children (West Sacramento: California

      School Boards Association, 1992).

DAVIS W CAMPBELL is the executive director of the

California School Boards Association, West Sacramento, where

DIANE GREEN is the assistant executive director, policy services. 


      -- End --