Working Under the Law
Local school districts are creatures of statute, formed by the law and subject to the law. Individual board members are held accountable to the electorate, but the district itself is held accountable by the state through the district’s accreditation. To ensure local schools remain accredited, boards must comply with state law. Understanding these obligations helps boards define and fulfill the role they play in the education of students in their communities.
The state legislature passes laws governing the system of public schools in Colorado. Each school board plays its part in implementing those laws at the district level. The duties of local school boards can be distilled into the following list:
- Hold regular and special meetings in public and keep appropriate records of those meetings
- Adopt policies and regulations for the efficient administration of the affairs of the district
- Adopt policies for accreditation of school districts
- Adopt content standards and a plan of implementation of such standards
- Adopt enrollment policies, including intra- and inter-district choice
- Adopt conflict-of-interest policies for board members (more later)
- Ensure that “effective educational programs are carried on in the schools of the district, and textbooks for any course of instruction or study in such programs are prescribed”
- Adopt the school district calendar
- Educate children with disabilities
- Provide instruction about the use and effect of tobacco, alcohol and controlled substances
- Require development of Individual Career and Academic Plans (ICAP)
- Adopt a student publications code
- Enforce the school attendance law
- Employ all personnel required to maintain district operations and carry out the educational program
- Implement a licensed personnel evaluation system
- Adopt a mission statement, safe-school plan and student discipline and conduct code
- Adopt a salary schedule or salary policy
- Keep complete and accurate financial and accounting records
- Protect public deposits in authorized investments and depositories
- Adopt a budget for each fiscal year
- Certify necessary tax levies to the county commissioners
- Protect student information
Beyond the legal requirements imposed on boards to keep the schoolhouse doors open, the law provides a list of powers boards may exercise as public bodies:
- Acquire, take and hold real personal property; sell or lease property
- Sue and be sued
- Purchase and construct buildings
- Provide furniture, equipment, library books “and everything needed to carry out the educational program”
- Determine which schools will be operated and fix the attendance boundaries of each school
- Furnish transportation for pupils
- Provide for the free use of textbooks
- Charge tuition and fees reasonably necessary for textbooks and expendable supplies
- Exclude books determined by the board to be of an immoral or pernicious nature
- Suspend, expel and deny admission to students for statutory reasons
- Employ a chief executive officer
- Adopt policies related to all aspects of employment
- Adopt a mission statement for the school district making safety a priority for each public school. Many school boards also include student achievement as a main focus of their mission statement. In general, the mission statement establishes a guiding vision for what the schools should achieve, and gives the entire school district a focus point and common goal to be accountable to the community.
- Discharge or otherwise terminate the employment of all personnel, subject to the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act
- Enter into master agreements with school employees
- Issue tax-anticipation notes
- Issue bonds after an election
- Enter into agreements with other school districts or state and local agencies as necessary to carry out the board’s policies
There are times when a board may find it advisable to establish a citizens advisory committee to study and make recommendations with respect to a special problem. Boards often find that such committees can be helpful in such areas as the district budget, considering the need for new facilities, supporting a bond election or providing input when decisions must be made about controversial issues.
Lay councils comprised of influential citizens and representatives of various community groups have brought about improved community understanding of the schools in many instances. The citizen committee members should be chosen by a board to represent a cross section of the community. If the committee is not representative, it cannot be effective. Citizen committees usually attract people who have an active interest in the schools. As they work with a board and become more conversant with its problems, they may become oriented to public education and stand ready to defend the district from unwarranted attack.
Experience has shown that it is best for citizen committee members to be advised at the outset about the committee’s role and function. Members should know the committee will be asked to report its findings and make recommendations, but it is a board’s responsibility to make final decisions. Problems occasionally arise when a board decides it cannot accept a committee recommendation. Members know that the board will give serious consideration to the committee’s input, but the board cannot delegate its decision-making responsibility. For its part, a board must ensure follow-through with committees. The people who are called upon to serve on citizen committees often develop a continuing interest in the school. Indeed, many who have served on such committees later have become board members.
Also, there may be other advisory committees that state or federal law requires a district to form. A board must grant to these committees the planning, implementation or evaluation of any programs or projects as required by law. The district personnel evaluation council and the district accountability committee are examples of such groups.