The main function of a school board is to provide local, citizen governance and oversight of education. Though ultimate responsibility for education rests with the state, Texas has delegated much of the authority to local communities who elect their local school trustees to govern the school district.
The idea behind this structure of shared responsibility is that, while some education policy issues are best addressed at the state level, others are far better addressed by your local community.
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about local school boards in Texas and how they function.
Q: Who Is Responsible for Public Education in Texas?
A: The commissioner of education, the State Board of Education (SBOE), and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) guide and monitor public education in Texas. The SBOE provides leadership and state-level administration as prescribed by law, and the commissioner and TEA staff implement state education policy.
Within the framework of state and federal law, your school district has significant latitude in shaping the educational programs of your schools.
Q: Why Do We Need Local School Boards?
A: The US Supreme Court has said education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Our system of local school districts and boards of education epitomizes representative and participatory government — citizens elected from their community making decisions about educational programs based on community needs, values, and expectations. School boards are entrusted by the public to translate the needs of students into policies, plans, and goals that will be supported by the community.
Q: What Do School Boards Do?
A: Local school board responsibilities can be grouped into five categories:
- Adopt goals and priorities and monitor success.
- Adopt policies and review for effectiveness.
- Hire and evaluate the superintendent.
- Adopt a budget and set a tax rate.
- Communicate with the community.
Q: How Do School Boards Make Decisions?
A: A school board is a local governmental body that can only act by a majority vote at a legally called public meeting. Each individual board member’s primary responsibility is to study issues facing the district, evaluate needs and resources, and, after due consideration, vote in the best interest of the students and the district at such a meeting.
Q: Who Can Participate in a School Board Meeting?
A: Citizens are welcome at all school board meetings, except in a few legally specified circumstances permitting closed meetings. School boards allow public participation and have policies communicating how and when people can share their input. Generally, boards set aside a portion of their meetings for public comment and limit each speaker’s comments to a certain time, for example, one to three minutes. This is a chance for people to give input while allowing adequate time for other important board business.
Q: When Are School Board Members Elected?
A: Traditionally in the state of Texas, School board elections are held on the first Saturday in May or first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Special elections to fill the unexpired term in the event of a board vacancy must also be held on a uniform election date.
Q: How Are School Board Members Elected?
A: School district trustees are elected by popular vote. Whether an election is by majority or plurality vote is a matter of local policy. Traditionally, trustees serve either three- or four-year terms, and most trustees serve staggered terms to support board continuity.
Q: How Does the School Board Work with the District Superintendent?
A: The operation of the school district at the local level is also a shared activity. The role of the school board members and the role of the superintendent are different:
- Your school board governs the district, but it does so with the advice of the superintendent.
- The superintendent manages the district, but they must do so with the oversight and management of the board, and within the framework of policies and priorities your board adopts.
This article was published on Oct. 20, 2020. It was updated on June 8, 2023.