STARTING OFF : A NEED-TO-KNOW FOR NEW SCHOOL DIRECTORS regulations that govern schools and school boards , and there is a rapid pace of change , so it ’ s easy for new directors to feel overwhelmed . PSBA ’ s Chief Legal Officer Stuart Knade says it ’ s important to start with a grasp of key laws and an understanding of the legal authority of boards . “ School law is fairly complex , but you don ’ t have to be an expert – that ’ s what the school solicitor is for ,” Knade says . “ You still should have a basic grasp of the various area of law that the board ’ s business touches upon .” Like Smeltzer , Knade emphasizes that the board ’ s authority is through its collective action , and not the actions of individuals , although each member has a voice .
It is very unlikely that most legal issues facing the district would have an impact on a school director ’ s personal finances , but there is a greater risk for elected officials when it comes to potential conflicts of financial interest . It is important that school directors become familiar with the state ’ s Ethics Act and other laws governing conflicts of interest , in addition to gaining a basic understanding of the general liability and regulatory issues arising in district operations . Maintaining a good understanding of conflict-ofinterest rules will give school directors a better sense of when personal situations may present legal risks , so they can get advice from the solicitor or the state Ethics Commission before venturing into dangerous territory .
School employment law is an area that school boards encounter frequently , and about which new school directors need a solid orientation . School employees are public employees , and as such , have both statutory and constitutional rights that differ from those in the private sector , especially in terms of tenure and termination . It ’ s also important to understand the basics of collective bargaining , the process in which employees in unions negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment . The Public Employees Relations Act ( PERA ) and Act 88 of 1992 govern the interaction between public school employers – the school board and district administration – and the unions representing district teachers and other employees .
In addition to employment matters , there are also key principles of law that govern the constitutional rights of students . Because boards adopt policies that regulate student discipline , for example , school directors should have some basic legal knowledge in this area as well .
The school solicitor is a key resource for understanding how school law intersects with board business . It ’ s important to understand how this role works with the board and members of the school administration . “ The solicitor ’ s client is the district as an entity , but the client speaks through the board of directors ,” Knade explains . “ The solicitor gives the board the best advice under the circumstances and helps carry out the board ’ s decisions related to that advice .” In general , the solicitor interacts on a daily basis mostly with the superintendent . Knade says this is the best way to ensure the district regularly operates in compliance with legal standards .
In addition to talking with the solicitor about specific matters , Knade recommends taking advantage of training , particularly the school law courses available on PSBA . org , for a broadbased knowledge of the aforementioned school law issues relating to board service .
Advocacy : Making an impact
According to PSBA ’ s Principles for Governance and Leadership , advocacy is a cornerstone of effective board service . PSBA works for you to be a powerful voice with the General Assembly , governor ’ s office and state agencies in Harrisburg . Using PSBA ’ s Legislative Platform as a guide , the association speaks out for the issues and needs important to your schools , students and communities . But our work is not done alone – it is a grassroots partnership that succeeds with many voices , including yours . Lawmakers want to hear school directors ’ perspective , as locally elected leaders , on how to provide a quality education to all students .
There are many ways to engage legislators on behalf of public education , the school district and the community . While the thought of visiting “ the Hill ” may be intimidating , PSBA provides resources and tools to help school directors foster an ongoing , positive relationship with their legislators . Maintaining regular , two-way communication is key .
Roadmap to Success Find suggestions of online modules to take each month of your first year , links to web resources and contact information for local field representatives .
OF PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURE
A Survival Guide for Pennsylvania School Boards
Essentials series : Contains basics school directors need to know to survive their first year .
January / February 2022 PSBA Bulletin 19