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In a Nutshell: The Role of School Boards

Current Events & News, Parent & Family Engagement | 06/06/2016

Lauren Craig
State Operations Coordinator

Lauren is Stand for Children's State Operations Coordinator

The state of Colorado has 178 school districts responsible for making many decisions about educating our nearly 900,000 students. This is serious business, particularly because Colorado is known as a  "local control state," which means that the Colorado Constitution gives school districts significant levels of  autonomy over how to best run their schools. Thus, it is important to understand the powers held by school districts and the role of school board members.  

School board members are locally-elected officials with the responsibility of making decisions about how best to meet the needs of students and the community. They do this by voting on and implementing policies meant to advance the district’s priorities. These could include staff contracts and salaries, school calendars, curriculum, and classroom procedures. Put simply, the school board oversees and determines the direction of the district, and staff must comply with their decisions.  

Conversely, school board members are also charged with ensuring that local policies and actions are aligned to policies and laws implemented at the state-level – by both the state legislature and the Colorado Department of Education. For example, state standards (expectations for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level) are determined at the state level, and the school board may determine the curriculum to best meet the standards. Colorado students are also required to take state-mandated assessments in certain grades, including Colorado Measures of Academic Success, the SAT and a test that measures reading abilities. While school board members cannot do away those assessments, they are able to, and often do, administer additional district-level assessments.  

School board meetings are open to the public and community members are able to testify about certain policies and may have opportunities to provide input in other decisions being considered by the school board. 

School boards have the following duties:    

  • Employ individuals responsible for overseeing education programs and operations at the district. 

  • Publish the district’s finances.  

  • Negotiate teacher and staff salaries. 

  • Determine the length of the school year [see below].  

  • Approve curriculum that aligns with the Colorado Academic Standards. 

School boards cannot:  

  • Reduce the length of the school year to fewer than 1,080 hours for secondary students and 990 hours for elementary students.  
  • Alter the state’s standards. 
  • Eliminate state-mandated assessments.  

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