What You Need to Know about Running for Your School Board

Running for School Board

School board trustees play an important role in their communities because the decisions they make impact students. Many trustees run for office because they care about children and want to ensure the best educational outcomes for all students. Some may have students in a district, others might be grandparents, and still others may find it rewarding to give back to their community.

Whatever the reason, if you’re considering a run for your local school board, it’s important to understand the role of a trustee, the board, and the commitment you’d be making to your school district and community.

Whatever the reason, if you’re considering a run for your local school board, it’s important to understand the role of a trustee, the board, and the commitment you’d be making to your school district and community.

Why Run for a Seat on the School Board?

In many cases, a parent decides to run for school board because they have a child in the district, and they view it as an opportunity to get involved and advocate on behalf of their child and the other students in the district.

That is how Frisco ISD trustee and 2022-23 TASB President Debbie Gillespie first became involved on her board in 2011. After volunteering in her community for several years, she said, “I wanted to continue my passion for giving back to our community by serving on the school board. … I wanted to help ensure that all children in our community had access to opportunities I never thought were even possible when I was a student.”

While it is also common for candidates to run for a seat on the board to make changes in the district, board members are limited by what they can and cannot do. It is important to understand the school board’s roles and responsibilities before deciding to run for trustee.

“If you have an agenda, you’re subject to being disappointed when you’re elected to the board,” said Longview ISD Board Member Ted Beard. “You’re there for the students, and if you’re focused on one thing, you’re missing the big picture.”

Can I Commit the Time to Run for, and Serve on, the School Board?

Running for school board can be exciting. It’s an opportunity to get out into your community and connect with people to learn what matters to them. But campaigning also takes time. The amount of time you commit will vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the size of the district and the number of candidates running for the same seat.

Candidates  for the school board should understand the basics of running a legal and ethical campaign for school board.

TASB’s Guide for School Board Candidates provides information about how the school board works, ethical campaigning, and summarizes election laws. It also includes resources and detailed information about:

  • Campaign finance
  • Reporting requirements
  • Election advertising guidelines

Campaigning for the School Board

To make the most of your campaign, you need to consider who your constituents are and what they care about. Taking the time to get out and talk with people in your school community may be one of the most important things you do during your campaign. Taking the time to listen to your community while understanding the role of a board member will create the conditions for a successful term in office should you be elected.

For example, individual trustees have no official authority outside of a legally called board meeting, and the board cannot commit to actions which are not passed by a majority of those present at a legally called meeting. If a board candidate makes campaign promises they are unable to keep – if elected – this may not only lead to an embarrassing situation for the trustee, it may also lead to negative reactions from constituents.

Candidates should seek to maintain high ethical standards while campaigning. Each board may have its own code of ethics, but to better understand the bar that is set for trustees, it’s a good idea to review the Code of Ethics for School Board Members, and understand nepotism and conflicts of interest.

When you do your homework and understand what is working in the district, the challenges it may face, and the opportunities it has for improvement, you are able to show voters your knowledge, understanding, and ability to lead.

These are general practices to ensure you conduct your campaign ethically:

  • Focus attention on issues and avoid attacking or finding fault in opponents and district employees.
  • Become familiar with specific issues in your district.
  • Always share accurate information during your campaign.
  • Keep your focus on what you would like to see happen in your district.

Running an ethical campaign demonstrates your leadership. It helps you establish a positive foundation for working with the board and administrators if you do get elected.

“How you campaign absolutely sets the tone for how you will serve,” former school board member and current TASB Senior Board Consultant Kay Douglas said. “I once had a board member say, ‘I campaigned on the idea that all of them were messing up. Now how do I work with them?’ And that’s exactly it. In your campaign, you want to make sure you’re focusing on service.”

Serving on the School Board

If you’re considering a run for school board but you’ve never attended a board meeting, you may want to check one out. Board meetings can cover a whole host of topics, including time for public comment. It is not unusual for meetings to be lengthy, depending on the issues on the agenda. And that doesn’t include the time you’ll need to read, research, and prepare in advance of board meetings.

As a new board member — and even as a veteran — there is a lot to learn and to stay up to date with as laws and policies can change year-to-year. And trustees are required by law to take classes to ensure they fully understand policy and procedures.

“Just be prepared to commit that time, if you want to be an effective board member,” Beard said. “You’re going to be called to do various things just because you’re on the school board, and also prepare for school board meetings. You’ll need to be doing research of your board packets, being informed and educated as to what’s going on in your school district, and not just coming in blind.”

Preparing and getting up to speed on district projects and policies are a big part of the first year on the board. During that initial year of board service you’ll learn about a wide variety of topics including:

  • District priorities.
  • The state accountability system.
  • District budgeting.
  • The difference between open and closed meetings.
  • If you’re elected, TASB offers a variety of training opportunities throughout the year held around the state, in your district, and even online.

What Do I Bring to the School Board?

When you run for a seat on the board, you’ll want to consider how you’d be an asset to the board and your local school community. It may be helpful to assess the knowledge and skills you offer that could be beneficial to your school board.

As a trustee, you’ll need to:

  • Attend meetings regularly.
  • Learn about new and sometimes complex issues.
  • Interact with a variety of community members.
  • Make decisions on issues that – at times – can be difficult.

“Joining a board is like jumping on a train that’s moving,” Douglas said. “They have been working together. They have a vision. They have goals. You want to figure out how you can be part of that, what you can add to that, and how you can be of service.”

No matter their background or experience, what makes board members successful is their ability to:

  • Work as a team to create a vision for the district and set measurable goals to achieve that vision.
  • Understand finances and budgets, and to regularly monitor the fiscal health of the district.
  • Focus on student achievement and implementing policies that ensure success for all students.
  • Inform the public regularly on the district’s progress and challenges.
  • Advocate on behalf of public schools.

As a board member you have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students in your community. And while serving as a board member can at times be challenging, most board members agree: Being of service to their community is one of among the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

This article was updated on Feb. 28, 2023.

Prepare to serve on your local school board.

Twice a year, TASB hosts an informative webinar designed just for school board candidates.