Information for School Board Members
Interested in Running?
The following are words of encouragement from current and former school board members highlighting the importance and rewarding experiences this service brings to your community.
We are current school board members who want to encourage you to complete nomination papers and work towards your election and service to the school community. We have found our service not only to be an essential and important benefit to the community’s children, but a rich and rewarding experience for ourselves personally. We have terrific students, teachers, administrators and staff and it is a pleasure to try to serve them. We also realize that our communities are extremely generous toward and supportive of our schools. We greatly value the sacrifices they make and the trust that they have placed in our schools. We strive to continue to make their support warranted.
Because the job of school board member also requires a considerable amount of work to be a success, we offer this information to you to help you realistically assess what the job of a school board member might involve and to help you determine if now is the right time for you to serve. However, in no way do we want to “scare you off”. It is good work and our boards need you.
SCHOOL BOARD RESPONSIBILITIES
Our responsibilities all derive from state law and regulation. First and foremost we are responsible for setting the over-all policies for our schools. These policies range from curriculum standards and assessment requirements to codes of conduct for students and staff. Increasingly the policies we adopt are dictated by state or federal mandates, so we must also attempt to understand those and respond to them in the way we deem best for our students. We are responsible for preparing and advocating for an annual budget for the schools. We are responsible for hiring and firing administrators and responding to recommendations for hiring other staff. We are responsible for negotiating employment contracts with our teachers and other staff. We are responsible for providing, improving, and maintaining the physical plant of the school. (This is slightly different at the high school, which has a separate board of trustees for that.) We are responsible for dealing with serious disciplinary matters, including possibly expelling and re-admitting students to school. In sum, we are elected to see that our schools provide each and every student with the best possible educational opportunity, knowing that a well-educated population is essential for the successful future of each individual as well as our town and country.
Although these are serious responsibilities, don’t worry. We have lots of help! Our administrators and staff are the ones who do the real work like preparing budgets and developing the specifics of our children’s education. We hire them to do that. In fact, one of the things we are NOT elected to do is to deal with day-to-day school challenges. That is sometimes called “micro-managing”, and we have found that is almost always not helpful. We work hard to hire competent administrators and staff, create meaningful expectations for their job performance, and then provide them the support they need to do the job we expect from them.
When you join a board, you will be joining experienced board members. There definitely is a “learning curve” and you are not expected to come on board “knowing it all”. We are all there to help one another. If you have not previously attended board meetings, we encourage you to attend any or all of our meetings between now and Election Day. The meetings are, of course, public meetings and you are always encouraged to attend. Attending will explain a lot more than this information ever could.
Also, feel free to ask any current board member any questions you now have about service. You can find out who is now on the board by checking this website or by calling the superintendent's office. And there are also helpful printed materials, including a handbook for Maine school board members (also available digitally on this website). Hard copies are also available through the superintendent's office.
SCHOOL BOARD STRUCTURE
Many people do not understand the structure of the school boards. It is largely determined by the state legislation, some of which was passed when our communities built the high school.
First, when you are elected to a school board you become a member of your five-person elementary school board. You will be meeting at your elementary school at least once a month (often boards meet twice a month during the fall budget-setting season), usually in the afternoon or evening for at least a couple of hours.
Second, as an elementary school board member for Bar Harbor, Mt. Desert, Southwest Harbor, or Tremont, you also become part of the island-wide high school board. Along with all other island board members you will attend one of those meetings at the high school at least one evening a month. They too usually last for a couple of hours. Voting at those meetings is done by three members each from the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert boards and two members each from Southwest Harbor and Tremont. Each town’s board determines for itself who votes. Even if you do not vote at every high school board meeting, it is important that you participate in discussions and become familiar with the many issues for which we are responsible. Elementary school board members should consider the high school board meetings every bit as important as the elementary school meetings. Our children need our services to be coordinated from kindergarten through graduation and it is vital that our board is as informed as possible about the whole process.
Also, along with members of outer island school boards, we all serve as members of the MDIRSS – AOS #91 board. That board is the one that deals with issues that affect all schools. The Superintendent’s office, including curriculum development and special education supervision is one example of MDIRSS responsibility. The MDIRSS – AOS #91 board usually meets once per month. Voting at the MDIRSS – AOS #91 meetings is done by four members from Bar Harbor, three members each from Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont, and Trenton, and one member each from Cranberry, Frenchboro, and Swan’s Island. Each town’s board determines for itself who votes.
Despite being elected by each of our individual towns, if you were to attend current MDIRSS – AOS #91 or High School board meetings you might observe that we have found it to be most helpful to work together with the perspective that we strive to serve each and every MDIRSS student equally, not to favor those students from our individual town. They are all our children.
Like any other board, there are committees and work groups that we each participate in. Some of the recent or on-going committees have included contract negotiations, policy review, at-risk students, building projects, and hiring. Yes, serving on these committees does mean extra meetings and work, but we have found that serving on these committees often strengthens our school, and broadens and deepens our knowledge of and appreciation for our schools.
WHY WE SERVE
You might choose to run for school board for many reasons. Usually it is because you have or have had a child in school and wish to support your school. However, sometimes it is because you have had what you feel is a negative experience with some aspect of your school. Or perhaps there is one issue in particular that you feel passionate about. Some people refer to that as “having an agenda”. While wanting to make change in our government’s policy or practice is a valuable and valued motivator, we offer a word of caution about being significantly moved by anger or a single issue to seek this job. The boards have so many diverse responsibilities that whatever issue you have at the moment is likely to quickly pass and you will be left needing to be responsible for many other issues, which may not be what you had in mind. You need to be willing to “buy” the whole package.
Speaking of “jobs”, yes we do get “paid” for serving on the school board. Each town sets the level of compensation in its budget. The “payment” is small, and really only represents a token of appreciation for service. Being on a town board, including a school board, is an act of volunteerism. It is an essential part of our representative democracy. Serving on the school board helps to ensure that the “control” of our schools stays local and strong.
We hope that we have been able to answer some of your questions about the responsibilities and rewards of service on our school boards. We hope you will consider offering yourself as a candidate from your town, and we wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.
Superintendent of Schools: Michael Zboray