Wondering what a school board does?

There’s a lot of noise right now around school boards, but do you know exactly what kind of power your local school board has? For this month’s Democracy Series, we’re diving into what the role of a school board is, what kind of power the board holds, and who can run!

In 2022, one political battleground we’re keeping our eyes on is the school board. In North Carolina, there are 115 school boards– 100 county boards and 15 city boards. The vast majority (112) are elected, while 3 are appointed. School boards in NC are composed of a various number of members; some have as few as 5 to as many as 12– it all depends on the county! The board is also granted corporate status from the General Assembly. As such, an individual board member has no authority to act on behalf of the board unless such authority is specifically delegated by the county.

So, what exactly can a school board doWhat powers do they have?

North Carolina’s constitution explicitly states that “[t]he people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.” 

The General Assembly is mandated to use tax money to provide “equal opportunities…for all students.” If you’ve heard about the Leandro case, you might already know that the courts have said that the NCGA is not living up to this constitutional mandate.

The General Assembly also has the power to assign local school boards “such responsibility for the financial support of the free public schools as it may deem appropriate,” or, in plain English, the ability to use their budget and tax revenue as they see fit. With responsibilities for the well-being of local schools being kicked down to the local level by deliberate inaction from the General Assembly, that actually makes our school boards a surprisingly powerful force. In 2015, the NCGA passed legislation that explicitly states:

“It shall be the duty of local boards of education to provide students with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education and to make all policy decisions with that objective in mind, including employment decisionsbudget development, and other administrative actions…”

Simply put, your local school board is pretty powerful! They can make decisions about educational policy, administrative hiring, where the money goes, and what programs get funded or unfunded. Your county superintendent isn’t an executive position like folks may think– they report to the board and are legally bound to carry out the rules and regulations of the board. When school buildings need to be repaired, sports and arts need to be funded, it’s the board that has authority over those requests. Got a favorite teacher that deserves a raise? It’s the school board that can approve pay increases when our state legislature won’t. School boards are the de facto school supervisor and school law enforcement agency, if you will. Therefore, who sits on that board matters… a lot. 

With any local government agency, it’s important that we as citizens don’t leave them completely to their own devices– we’ve got to stay involved in all levels of our local government to ensure it’s working for everyone. So how can you as a resident impact your school board and the decisions that are made? 

  • Firstly, you can attend your local school board meetingsUse our school board meeting finder to find your county school board’s meeting times. Decisions about our local government are always made by the people that show up. If you have time, go in person to see exactly what’s going on. Try to attend a live stream and leave a public comment if you can. Wondering how to do that? Watch one of our previous school board training sessions to learn how!
  • You can find out who is running for school board in your community. Because of redistricting, the candidate filing deadlines have been pushed back. The filing period will resume February 24th, 2022 and will end on March 4th, 2022 at 12:00PM. Did you know that you can go to the Board of Elections website to see who has already filed in your community? (Also, remember that the voter registration deadline for the primaries this year is April 22nd! Make sure you’re registered!)
  • You can run for school board! Anyone who wants to run for a local government position must be registered to vote in NC, qualified to vote in an election for the office sought, and 21 years of age by the date of the election. To officially run, candidates must file a Notice of Candidacy Form with either your county’s Board of Elections, or with the NC State Board of Elections during the Candidate Filing Period. Once you pay the filing fee in your county, you’re a candidate! Look up your local BOE here.

More Reading below!

Has there been far-right backlash at the school board in your community?
Learn more about what is happening in this Down Home OpEd.

Thinking of running for your local school board?
Read an interview with Down Home member Keshia Sandidge who ran in Cabarrus County in 2020!

What's Next?

People just like you are showing up at their school boards to fight for safety, truth, and reason in North Carolina’s public schools!
Ready to join the movement? Attend one of our upcoming school board workshops on February 23rd and March 12th!

Wondering how to combat misinformation in your community?
Come to our misinformation workshop on the 28th