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July-August, 2009

Delegation, not hands-on best fulfills board role

The question for this issue is answered with a collaboration of IASB's communications and field services departments and the office of general counsel.

Question: I'm new to the board and learned that I am required by The School Code to approve the budget, employee hires and curriculum changes. If I'm required to do this, shouldn't I have an active role in what's being proposed...like interviewing prospective teachers or developing the budget?

Answer: You are correct that The School Code requires school boards to carry out certain duties such as those you have listed. The question is: "How does an effective school board fulfill these statutory responsibilities?" For guidance, we can look to the Illinois Association of School Boards' Foundational Principles of Effective Governance.

These principles outline the role of the school board as an effective governing board. They state that the board sits in trust for the community and that arising out of this trustee role are certain fundamental duties. The document is available on the Association's website at http://iasb.com/principles.cfm and is the cornerstone of new board member workshops on governance.

One of the six principles applies directly here: "The Board Delegates Authority." That principle states that the board delegates authority to the superintendent to manage the district and provide leadership for the staff. For example, a board may adopt policy that establishes hiring criteria and standards, may delegate the implementation of that policy to the superintendent and may monitor compliance with the policy.

This allows the board to spend its time establishing what it wants, delegating the authority to get the job done to the professional staff best qualified to do the work and monitoring whether the board's direction is being followed and its goals are being achieved.

Ultimately, the board is responsible for everything, yet it must recognize that everything depends upon a capable and competent staff. This sort of delegation can be difficult for board members who are accustomed to direct action. However, to stay appropriately focused on the big picture and avoid confusing staff, school board members must discipline themselves to trust their superintendent and staff and not involve themselves in the day-to-day operations of the district.

One of the best resources to help new board members understand the requirements of The School Code and how a board must operate as a corporate entity is the Illinois School Law Survey. Now in its 10th edition, the Law Survey is written by Brian A. Braun, a school law attorney who lives in Champaign.

This reference book tries to clarify, in simple-to-understand language, what board members, as well as the general public, might want to know about The School Code.

The Law Survey is written in a Q&A form that follows the various sections of The School Code and provides specific legal references to go along with each entry.

Understanding the board's legal responsibilities and the appropriate governance role of school board members in their district is important. For information on professional development opportunities, contact Judy Williams at jwilliams@iasb.com. For information on books, contact Tammy Call at tcall@iasb.com, or visit IASB's online bookstore at http://iasb.com/shop/.

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