Good Governance: A Legal View

By Dean Pickett

Max (not his real name) was an active parent in one of the district’s middle schools. He had served as PTO president for a year. Two of his children were particularly talented athletes.

When the district’s budget got tight, the school board was forced to consider cost-cutting measures, including significant cuts to interscholastic sports. The board voted to eliminate middle school interscholastic sports participation.

Max saw that the authority to restore the programs rested with the school board, so he ran for a seat in the next election, with the support of a booster club active at his children’s school and the nearby high school. He really had only one plank in his campaign platform: If elected, he would restore middle school sports to their former levels and strive to expand them. Few people ran that year; Max was elected.

Max was unprepared for the full range of responsibilities a school board member carries. While restoration of middle school sports could be considered, it had to be addressed in the much larger context of a comprehensive K-12 budget and the continual governance responsibilities of a board overseeing a large district.

Max quickly learned that he couldn’t go it alone. The district’s superintendent sat down with him after his first board meeting. He explained the resources Max had available to him, including the mentorship of a senior board member and the support of the superintendent. He also discussed how Max could respond to the expectations of his community, and stressed the reality that Max was not “flying solo.” He was, in fact, working as part of a team made up of fellow board members, experienced administrators and, when needed, school attorneys with specific expertise in the constantly evolving field of education law.

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