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School Boards: Why Should I Care?

School Boards: Why Should I Care?

Parents care about school board elections for themselves and their kids. Teachers care about school board elections for themselves, their kids, and their careers. Everyone else might wonder: "Why should I care?"

There are some relatively obvious reasons everyone should care: better schools increase property values and may reduce crime. But there are less obvious reasons to care.

School boards shape policy that can ensure access to high-quality education for all Colorado students... or not. School boards can shape policy to recruit the best teachers, or the best administrators.... but due to Colorado's tax code, probably not both. The school boards' responsibilities are broad and deep. Decisions are often complex and the outcomes have high stakes, not only for students, but for families, employers, our state and our nation.

There is more to a board’s role in fiscal management than oversight responsibilities. It is up to a board to set priorities that are reflected in the school district budget. How a school district allocates resources might be the best way to tell what their priorities are. The old adage about “putting your money where your mouth is” may be a tired one, but in a state strapped for school funding, it rings true.

That said, school boards sometimes struggle to control budget decisions. The Colorado Association of School Boards explains:

Fundamental operating costs are long established and difficult to alter. Community groups, employee organizations and others have learned to exert political influence on the budget process. When money is tight, people defend their turf and protect their programs from cuts. When money is available for growth or improvement, the same people want a piece of the new resources as well. School boards often find themselves caught in the middle of these political tugs-of-war.

It is natural to want to be responsible to constituents, but school boards that have established clear goals and priorities based on input from all the stakeholders will focus on making spending decisions that support the shared vision.

As you research school board candidates up for election this November 7, or as you follow your local school board's activities throughout the year, bear in mind the following budget mistakes. Make sure your elected officials don't make them, and hold them accountable if they do!

  1. Forget to hold the public hearings required by law.
  2. Use a fund balance you don’t really have.
  3. Use a one-time only revenue more than once.
  4. Overlook something that is small now but will be big next year.
  5. Overestimate revenue.
  6. Underestimate cost increases.
  7. Adopt a budget without an adequate contingency.
  8. Forget to certify your mill levy to the county by the deadline.
  9. Fail to adopt the budget.
  10. Use an enrollment forecast from anyone who doesn’t have to live with the adjustments if the forecast is too high.
A Year In Civic Gratitude

A Year In Civic Gratitude