School board members have a very limited role in personnel matters, and are prohibited from influencing the hiring of district employees.
KSBA staff attorney Whitney Crowe noted during a clinic session on the role of the school board in district personnel that there are only a few positions hired by the school board. Those are the board treasurer, board secretary, board attorney and independent contractors through a bidding process.
Plus, the most important hire board members make: the superintendent.
With regard to the superintendent, a screening committee makes a recommendation to the board. While that recommendation must be considered, it does not limit the board’s decision on who it hires, Crowe said.
KSBA staff attorney Whitney Crowe talks to
Garrard County school board member Michael McQueary
following a clinic session at KSBA's annual conference.
The superintendent receives a contract of one to four years and never obtains tenure. The school board must evaluate the superintendent at least once each year using guidelines approved by the Kentucky Department of Education.
The board can remove a superintendent before his or her contract ends with a vote of four of five members and with approval from the commissioner of education. School boards should always first consult their board attorney to determine if removal is appropriate and to ensure all procedures are properly followed.
Additional personnel responsibilities of the board
School boards are prohibited from influencing who is hired, transferred, non-renewed, etc. An attempt by a board member to influence the hiring of any school employee can lead to disqualification from the school board.
They also should not limit or attempt to limit the superintendent’s discretion in personnel matters. However, the board does play an overarching role.
The board sets the district’s budget, which impacts personnel. It can create or abolish positions within the district. The board also establishes qualifications, duties and compensation for positions in the district.
In addition, the board approves the employee evaluation system to be used within the district and adopts personnel policies pertaining to work hours, benefits, disciplinary matters and due process.
Superintendent’s role in personnel
A superintendent is responsible for all personnel acts within the district. This includes the hiring, promotions, transfers, assignments, reinstatements, suspensions and dismissals of district employees.
The superintendent is required to report personnel action to the school board and the school board can inquire into personnel matters “as required by official duties,” Crowe said.
“It is very limited, very specific as to when those inquiries can be made. You should request that information, evaluate that information for the purpose of evaluating your employee – the superintendent,” Crowe said. “And also just looking at how the district is functioning as a whole, and of course personnel is a piece of that puzzle.”
She said a school board’s ability to be involved and informed about personnel decisions in order to evaluate the superintendent “is a fine line you have to walk. … You have to be able to stay involved enough to at least evaluate the Superintendent appropriately.”
School council’s role
A school’s site-based decision making council selects the school principal, allocates the number of employees within each job classification and consults in the selection of personnel and filling of vacancies by the principal.
The council does not have the authority to recommend transfers or dismissals “and they never evaluate any employee performance,” Crowe said.
Administrators and school board members are prohibited from intentionally engaging in a pattern or practice to thwart school council operations or decisions. “Local boards can adopt a policy that requires the SBDM council at each school to make an annual report at a public hearing that details school progress in meeting state and also district educational goals; and, of course, legitimate concerns about the progress towards those educational goals and how that school is functioning can be raised,” she said.
If a school board member hears complaints from a constituent about a particular teacher, the board member should first refer the individual to the supervising principal and/or superintendent. If needed, the board member can also consult with the board attorney.
“If you receive a really serious allegation or one that you think that could possibly involve the district in litigation, I think your superintendent would like to know that, but I recommend talking to your board attorney, saying ‘Here’s what I’ve heard. I feel like the superintendent needs to be aware of this, how do we get them that information. I in no way want to influence their decision in regard to this individual employee but I just want them to be aware of that situation.’ It’s a case-by-case situation.”