What you need to know about school district governing boards
With elections right around the corner and more parents than ever tuning into school district governing board meetings, Expect More Arizona interviewed three school board members to learn about their experience serving on a governing board.
- Buck Crouch has served on the Sunnyside Unified School District (south of Tucson) board for 10 years.
- Desiree Fowler has been on the Page Unified School District board for four years.
- Tida Garcia is a member of the Tolleson Elementary School District and has served for five years.
Here’s what they had to say:
Why did you decide to run for a seat on the school board?
- Crouch: I was born in this area and attended Sunnyside Elementary, Junior High and High School. Having grown up in the district, I know that our schools are an extremely important part of our society. First, I became involved with the Sunnyside Foundation and Alumni Association, but as a business owner, I thought the district’s board could use a different perspective. I knew I could lend expertise that would be valuable.
- Fowler: When my boys were in school, I started volunteering. Then I was asked to serve on a committee. The more involved I became, the more I learned. And whenever the superintendent gave updates on the district, I noticed it was the board that was making so many decisions. And I noticed that the voices of Native American students were not represented on the board, despite the fact that most students in our district are living on a reservation. I understand their communities and the barriers these students live with. I know firsthand the importance of education. As a teen mom, I graduated from high school in three years because I knew it would be important to my future.
- Garcia: When I first ran for the school board, I wanted to be more involved with my kids’ education. I was working in health care, but I didn’t have a firm understanding of how the school system worked. I wanted to serve the community.
What is involved in your role?
- Crouch: Well I can tell you that we don’t run the schools on a daily basis. We set district policies and make district financial decisions. As a board, we have only one employee – the district’s superintendent. We hire them to further the board’s vision and guide school principals. Prior to each board meeting, I study the “packet” of information relating to the upcoming board meeting and obtain clarification if necessary. As a board member, I need to be educated on the role, duties and responsibilities of the board members, which the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) helps with. We also need to be up-to-date on legislation, court decisions, events that impact schools. As part of the community, I also attend the Tucson Police Department, Operation Division South, quarterly Captain’s Corner as a liaison for the district with the police department. There are also several neighborhood association meetings attended to understand concerns and let them know what is happening in the district.
- Fowler: As a school board member I oversee the district’s budgets and policies. We hire the superintendent and address serious student discipline issues. As a board member it’s my responsibility to understand our bylaws and board meeting agenda issues. Our one employee is the district’s superintendent and I keep in close contact with him.
- Garcia: School governing board members need to learn how the education system works, particularly the funding side of things. We have to consider whether funds are going to the right places, whether the superintendent is carrying out the board’s vision, and more. I serve in a culturally diverse community, so I need to be able to represent all of the students in our schools.
Are there common misperceptions about board members?
- Crouch: That we’re not earning our pay! Many people are shocked to learn that serving on a school board is an unpaid position. That might sound like the role is unimportant, but it’s a way to directly impact youth in my community.
- Fowler: That we have a magic wand. I wish! But we can’t just make things magically happen, unfortunately. Another thing I hear frequently is that board members get paid, which we don’t.
- Garcia: The general public doesn’t understand clearly what we do. Or why it’s important to know who sits on the governing board. We impact education every day, so before you vote, understand what the candidate’s goals are and why they’re running.
What do you enjoy most about serving on the board?
- Crouch: I love making a difference in the community. I believe that our schools now have a stronger sense of equity and more community involvement. When I was young, my wife’s grandfather served on the school board. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate what he was doing, but I do now!
- Fowler: It’s such a pleasure to be a voice for students. And my time on the board has been such a growth experience, a time to learn leadership skills, and to listen to the community.
- Garcia: Serving on the board has been a great opportunity to understand and impact educational pathways for children. And to bring more awareness to our community. I came from the corporate world, where processes are very different. But as a board member, my accountability is to the kids in my district. Because this education is their future.
Are there aspects of the position that you don’t particularly like?
- Crouch: The hardest part of the job is when we address student discipline and have to consider whether expulsion or long-term suspension is appropriate. Even when we know we don’t have a choice, it’s hard. You don’t want to feel like you’re giving up on them.
- Fowler: I can’t think of anything!
- Garcia: It can be stressful to make sure I’m making the right decision for our students. When you first get elected, there’s so much learning to do and I felt like I didn’t know enough to make informed decisions. Even now I know I don’t know everything, so I consider what’s best for the children.
How much time do you spend on board duties?
- Crouch: Time commitment can vary depending on the time of year. Summers are usually pretty relaxed, but with COVID, we’ve been much busier. During a typical year, I’ll devote about 500 hours to board responsibilities. But that’s probably higher because our board is very involved, attending games, events and more. As the board president, I’m also in close contact with the superintendent to get updates and set board meeting agendas.
- Fowler: That depends on the person. The more time you put into understanding each department, the better. I had already worked in the schools, which helped. But many board members visit schools regularly and do work to be prepared for board meetings. In a typical year, I spend about 15-20 hours every two weeks.
- Garcia: I work in a small district, so I dedicate about 15 hours per month. It’s been busier during the pandemic, though.
What would you say to someone considering running for a board seat?
- Crouch: Before you run, find other ways to get involved. Attend board meetings to get a sense of what board members do. Talk to member of the board and get involved in advisory committees. Volunteer in a school. It’s important for boards to get fresh perspectives!
- Fowler: I would ask why they’re running. It’s a stressful job, so having a passion for helping children is a must. Boards need shuffling periodically, so it’s important that others get involved.
- Garcia: I would encourage others to run. You can bring your passion to a board and help students find their purpose. It’s a great way to make a difference in the world. But if a board election isn’t for you, there are other ways to get involved! Volunteer, ask questions, help where you can.