(See past issues of the Superintendent's Corner, below.)
May 10, 2013
The Gateway Regional School Committee has been working with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) on developing goals for itself and establishing a shared understanding of its role as a school committee. Over the years, I’ve heard varying responsibilities attributed to the committee and often these ideas are different and at odds with each other. Given potential changes to the committee, the district, and the fact that we’re in the middle of annual town meeting season, I thought I would summarize the duties of the school committee from the law and the MASC.
Massachusetts General Law (Chapter 71, Section 16) outlines the status, powers, and duties of a school committee in a regional school district. Essentially they are: to adopt a name and corporate seal; to sue and be sued; to acquire property; to incur debt; to issue bonds or notes; to receive and disburse funds; to assess member towns for district expenses; to receive grants and gifts; to engage legal counsel; to submit an annual report; to employ a superintendent; to adopt an annual operating budget; to refinance debt; to lease equipment, land, buildings; and to lease parts of the regional buildings/property. By law (M.G.L.C.71, S.59) the duties of the superintendent are also set, which include managing the district in a fashion consistent with state law and policy set by the school committee.
These are fairly broad definitions that are further defined through policy. The policy functions of the committee encompass the areas of policy making, appraisal, providing financial resources, public relations, and educational planning and evaluation.These are fulfilled through the duties and obligations outlined in school committee policy (Gateway Policies file BBAA) including familiarity with general law, policies, and regulations; working effectively with other committee members; voting and acting impartially for the good of the students; accepting the will of the majority and abiding by and carrying out committee decisions once made; representing the schools to the public in a way that promotes interest and support; referring questions and complaints to the proper school authorities; and complying with the accepted code of ethics for committee members.
The code of ethics (established by the MASC) goes beyond state law and regulations to cover the areas of community responsibility, responsibility to school administration, and relationships to fellow committee members (Gateway Policies file BCA). These include realizing that his/her primary responsibility is to the district’s children; recognizing that his/her basic function is policy making and not administrative; representing the entire community; accepting the office as a means of unselfish service with no intent to “play politics”; recognizing and supporting the administrative chain of command; giving the chief administrator full responsibility for discharging professional duties and holding them responsible for results; upholding the intent of privileged communications in executive sessions; not making promises or statements on how he/she will vote; not withholding pertinent information on school matters; and making decisions only after all facts on a question have been presented and discussed.
Many people in the public are unaware of the specific roles, responsibilities, and limitations that school committee members have in fulfilling their roles, especially related to the numerous regulations and requirements that must be met under the law, which neither the committee members nor administration can alter. This lack of awareness of the limitations that both school committee members and administrators face occasionally leads to frustration on the part of the public when they want something to happen that may not fall within the purview of the organization to change or which is in contradiction to state law or regulations.