BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Ask anyone familiar with the public drama:
School boards provoke as much passion among their constituents as
Congress. And it's easy to understand why, says Thomas Ramming,
clinical assistant professor of educational leadership and policy
in the University at Buffalo's Graduate School of Education.
"School boards help create the programs, services and
opportunities that will allow our students to grow, and our
communities and nation to thrive," Ramming says. They matter as
much as larger governing bodies, he says, because their decisions
so directly affect the people they are elected to serve.
That's all the more reason why they should function well,
Ramming says. And often, dysfunctional school boards share similar
A former Grand Island, N.Y., superintendent, Ramming has
extensive hands-on experience with local school districts,
particularly in the areas of collective bargaining and human
resource management. He teaches aspiring educators in UB's Graduate
School of Education studying to be superintendents, principals and
other academic administrators.
Ramming has identified a quick-but-revealing checklist to help
those outside the inner circles of public K-12 education determine
the effectiveness of their school boards. By following these
guidelines, Ramming says a school board will function better and
have a much more positive impact on a school district -- without
all the unnecessary drama.
Ramming's guidelines for good, well-functioning school
No. 1: Does the school board understand its role as the
primary policymaking body while allowing the district
superintendent and his or her staff to administer the district?
A properly functioning school board should avoid getting involved
in the day-to-day operations of the school district. It should
instead relay any concerns about day-to-day operations to the
superintendent for resolutions.
No. 2: Does the school board understand that its authority
comes from acting as a collective school board as opposed to
individual board members feeling they have power on their own?
This is consistent with the appropriate role of school boards,
which are vested with rights and responsibilities -- but those
rights and responsibilities do not flow to individual school
board members. That authority comes from the board as a whole. It's
an important distinction. No single individual has the authority to
make any decisions or take any actions that affect the operation of
the school district, Ramming points out.
No. 3: Do the school board members treat each other, as well
as their constituents, with respect? Acrimony, gamesmanship and
name-calling -- although far too common -- have no place in the
governance of a school district.
No. 4: Does the school board have the interest of the
students in mind while balancing those interests against the
interests of taxpayers? Public schools were established to
provide a quality education that would allow our state and nation
to flourish. But not at all costs. And a well-operating school
board understands that it must constantly balance student needs and
No. 5: Is the school board interested, informed and
knowledgeable about the role it is intended to serve? Good
school board members should attend school events and community
functions, and work to increase their training and awareness with
regard to education and fiscal issues.
No. 6: Does the school board understand it has a fiduciary
responsibility to protect the interest of taxpayers, short-term as
well as long-term? When it considers the annual budget, that
consideration must include impact on educational programs, as well
as impact on the taxpayers. A good school board also makes sure the
school budget protects the future fiscal integrity of the
No. 7: When working with the superintendent, does the school
board set short-term and long-term goals for the district?
There always should be measurable benchmarks to determine whether
those goals are being met. And these goals should reflect the scope
of the district, and include such areas as building maintenance and
facilities, budget and finance, academic programs and student
achievement. Are these goals clear and their progress
A frequent consultant for the Western New York Educational
Service Council, Ramming specializes in strategic human resources
planning, teacher/administrative evaluations and student
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.