The essays in the Commentary section are the personal views and opinions of the author.
These are not news items and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Delaware Call.

The Complexity of a School Board Member’s Role

 · February 23, 2021
Apple on Desk

The March 5 deadline to file as a candidate for the upcoming school board elections is fast approaching. 

In a few weeks, the public will know the names, experiences and platforms of those running in their school districts. Campaign websites will launch, and social media invites will soon appear. 

A quick Google search might do the job may help interested voters––yet to truly make an informed decision on who to elect we must first understand the enormity and complexity of a school board member’s role.

And suppose school board election turnout, which hovers each year around less than 2% of eligible voters, is any indication. In that case, we are not aware of how influential these decision-makers are to our school children’s experiences.

While the qualifications to become a school board member are relatively straightforward, the position requires an unequivocal commitment to the community, the students and the school district.

School board members serve as the district’s financial advisors. In addition to federal and state investments, a significant portion of the district’s budget comes from our tax dollars. A school district’s budget can reach up to hundreds of millions of dollars. School board members are responsible for managing and allocating these funds. They decide which schools receive funding, how much, and for what purpose. 

If there is a budget shortfall or deficit, school board members decide if a referendum to raise local taxes should be presented to the public. If a referendum fails, school board members determine which programs and staff to cut. 

When not crunching numbers, school board members are responsible for hiring the district’s superintendent and holding them accountable for student outcomes and priorities laid out in their strategic plan. 

Many view the role of school board members as hands-on, in the weeds members of the district. In fact, they are almost the opposite; they set the vision for the school district. 

Like a head coach, they call and support the plays while the playersthe superintendent and district administrationexecute the game plan.  

This does not mean that school board members aren’t or shouldn’t be active in their school district community. 

Like most elected officials, school members are also responsible for representing and responding to their district’s students, families, teachers, and taxpayers’ interests. 

At school board meetings, school board members do not respond to public comments or questions. However, they are responsible to their constituents and should be responsive to inquiries from the public outside of these hours, whether at a high school football game or the local grocery store. 

As the filing deadline approaches and candidates start throwing their hats in the ring, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions about their understanding and commitment to the role. 
Don’t forget to vote on May 11. Polling locations and vote by mail instructions can be found on the department of elections website,

About the Author

Laurie M. Jacobs is the communications manager at First State Educate, a nonprofit organization catalyzing radical change education by activating the power of Delawareans. Read more from Laurie Jacobs.