Reporter's Guide to Pennsylvania Local Government

what you really need to know when they send you to a meeting

School Board

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The Pennsylvania Constitution directs the General Assembly to provide a system of public schools. The regulations governing school in the commonwealth are in the Public School Code.

WHO’S AT THE TABLE

The school board — technically, the board of school directors: nine members with full power to carry out decisions for the district:

  • recruits, hires and evaluates the superintendent
  • hires all staff, typically at the recommendation of the superintendent
  • approves building projects
  • approves textbooks
  • approves purchases
  • levies taxes and issues bonds
  • sets policy for the schools
  • enacts rules and regulations to implement policy
  • has the final decision on expulsion and suspension
  • fill vacancies on the board between elections

The superintendent of schools is the chief administrator of the district and the professional adviser to the school board:

  • prepares the annual budget
  • makes recommendations about personnel and policies
  • manages the staff
  • carries out board policies

WHO ELSE – PROFESSIONAL STAFF ALSO LIKELY TO BE PRESENT

Business Manager – the chief financial officer of the district – works on budget, proposes taxes, manages spending.

Buildings, grounds, and/ or and maintenance supervisor – in charge of the physical plant. Could address maintenance issues, building project if one is going on.

Curriculum Director – Manages educational programs for the whole district, implements state and federal curriculum mandates such as No Child Left Behind and various testing programs.

Other administrators — for example, Director of Special Education, Director of Physical Education, Director of Dining/ Cafeteria Services, principals, head teachers, assistants to any directors

ALSO OFTEN ATTENDING MEETINGS

Teacher’s union representative(s)

Representative(s) of the Parent/ Teacher Organization

Parents, Taxpayers

COMMON SCHOOL BOARD ISSUES

Building projects (PlanCon)

Union contracts

Curriculum, textbook issues

Budget, taxes

Contracts for educational placements outside of district; for example, with an IU, vo-tech or alternative school

Hiring

Employee benefits

POTENTIALLY USEFUL FACTS

A quorum of school board members (more than half, or at least five) is required to conduct business.

The board is legally obligated to provide time for public comment on an issue before they take action on it.

The board may take action only during official meetings.

The law allows some confidential issues to be discussed, but not voted on, in private “executive sessions.”

The board president runs the meetings and signs documents for the board.

Every school district belongs to one of 29 Intermediate Units.  Intermediate Units provide ancillary services such as specialized special education classes. Intermediate units are headed by an executive director who is elected by an IU board of directors composed of representatives of the member school boards.

Several school districts might share a vocational school which students from all the member districts may atend. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Education certifies teachers, advises districts on developing courses of study, administers state grants to public schools, approves plans for school buildings and facilities, and sets minimum salary and increment schedules for teachers, principals and other professional employees.

School boards reorganize during the first week of December every year to:

  • elect a president and vice president
  • adopt a meeting calendar for the following year
  • appoint committees and other board positions
  • swear in newly elected members

The school code requires school boards to meet a minimum of once every two months; most boards meet more frequently.

School directors are elected and serve four-year overlapping terms, except in Philadelphia.

A school director must be:

  • 18 years old
  • a citizen of the U.S. and Pennsylvania
  • a resident of the district for at least one year before the election
  • not serving in any other elected position in local government
  • not a school district employee, with rare exceptions

School directors serve without pay and must take an oath of office and a loyalty oath.

School board elections are held every two years, as part of municipal elections. Generally, the number of seats up for election is staggered, with five seats elected one term, then four seats elected the alternate term.

Candidates for school board may cross-file or file for more than one political party in primary elections.

Anyone aged 6-21 may attend public school. Pupils must be at least 5 years, 7 months to enter at the beginning of a school year.

The Compulsory Attendance Law requires all children to enter school not later than age 8 and attend until age 17 unless lawfully excused. A student may be excused at age 15 – 14 in some cases – with a permit to do farm or domestic service in a private home.

Membership in the Public School Employees’ Retirement System is mandatory for school employees.

For more information, see the “Links” page of this website, scroll down to publications from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Written by pareporter

April 21, 2010 at 12:37 am

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