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School board elections important

By Steve Horton, Guest Writer

The General Election on Nov. 8 is the day that will determine who assumes the role of school corporation trustee, i.e., school board member. It is a position of great importance to the community and should not be taken lightly.

School board governance is multi-faceted, and the work is often misunderstood by members of the community.

School board members who work well and make decisions together have a positive influence on their students, school employees and, ultimately, the community.
It is important to keep in perspective that school corporations are complex organizations with multi-million-dollar budgets.

Indiana statute is not overly prescriptive regarding the duty of school boards, although there are important expectations of the board. School boards are required to hire and evaluate a superintendent to act as the CEO of the corporation. That is arguably the most important decision the board makes. They are also the policy making body of the corporation.

While most of the policies are not actually written by the board, it should be ongoing work to ensure that the policy manual is up to date and compliant with federal and state legal requirements.

School boards approve an annual budget and provide financial oversight for the corporation. Working closely with the superintendent to ensure that the organization is fiscally healthy and that the children and staff have safe and secure facilities is paramount.

Ultimately, the school board is accountable to the public to ensure the financial solvency of the school corporation.

Indiana Open Door Law does require the board of trustees to meet in public to consider the recommendations of the superintendent.

The process of recommendation and approval requires a high level of trust and communication between the members of the leadership team. It requires that information is shared equally and transparently and that all members agree to act with a high level of respect both for each other and for the work the team is doing together.

This work is bound by a commitment to honor each other and always put the needs of the children first.

One overarching and important point to make about the laws that govern the work of school boards is that nothing in Indiana statute grants individual decision-making authority to individual members.

The only time the board has authority is when they meet in public and vote. Consensus is the board’s job. Doing that work with fidelity requires that all the members have an equal voice and vote, and perhaps more important than talking is listening.

Whomever voters elect to the school board, these newly elected officials will assume their duty in January.

Editor’s note: Steve Horton is director of Board Services for the Indiana School Boards Association.