Do you know the power and the authority that your local school board has?

Posted at 7:16 AM, Sep 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-25 10:19:15-04

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community, many parents started tuning into their local school boards. As big decisions were being made about when and how to safely open schools, many were suddenly familiarized with the people elected to serve on the board.

"Your elected governing board members do have a lot of power and responsibility that impacts your community at a local level a lot more than often decisions in Washington," says Steven Chapman, President of the Arizona School Board Association.

With a presidential election looming, there are candidates on your ballot that you need to become familiar with, adds Chapman.

"Find out who these people are because they impact your life, especially if you have children," he says.

According to Arizona law, school board candidates are like any other elected officials with the exception that they do not get paid for their school board work. Before becoming an official candidate, they collect signatures, many have fundraisers, and in some cases, they are endorsed by unions or specific community groups.

Looking at districts across our state, ABC15 learned school boards control anywhere from $10-$400 million. The bigger districts like Mesa, Chandler and Phoenix Union have budgets ranging in the $340-$400 million range.

"Essentially the governing board can set the direction for that budget, whether it be, we want to reduce class sizes, so that's a directive to staff to make sure to hire or build more classrooms," adds Chapman.

Not only is he on the School Board Assocation, but Chapman himself has also been a school board member with the Tolleson Union High School District for over five years.

Teachers, principals, and staff are typically hired by the district but the ultimate decision on who is fired or hired is made official by the district's governing board. The Superintendent is a direct employee of the school board and is hired or fired by the board.

In the past six months, districts across the state have seen an uptick in participation and attendance (virtually) by members of the community in which they serve. Chapman says that uptick is due to the big decisions the boards have had to make on when and how to safely close and open schools.

Tolleson Union High School District was one of the first in the state to shut its doors in March, before Governor Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman declared that all schools would be shutting down.

"You don't hear a lot unless there is something going on in their communities," adds Chapman.

Chapman has one bit of advice for the community: "Know what your school board is doing, especially if you have children because they are setting the budget priority they are hiring the superintendent who is running the daily operations of that district."

Eighteen districts are going for bonds or overrides in Maricopa County this year. See 2020 District Bond & Override Statuses here.

See candidates who have filed intents to run for school boards here.