Frequently asked questions about Pennsylvania school boards

School boards are part of Pennsylvania’s statewide public education system. Each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts is governed and supported by an elected board of officials that holds certain assigned responsibilities and authorities.

The FAQ responses relate to Pennsylvania and the laws related to schools may vary state-to-state.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly, in compliance with the Constitution of Pennsylvania Article III Section 14, provides school boards the authority to maintain and support a thorough and efficient system of public education. The School Board is the governing authority of the school district, elected by its citizens, which oversees the functioning of the district and takes official action as required by federal and state law, regulations and local Board policy such as reviewing and adopting the district’s annual budget, levying and assessing local taxes, officially approving the hiring and compensation of personnel, adopting planned instruction and appointing a district Superintendent to manage the day-to-day operations of the district.

The “Public School Code of 1949” is the primary statutory law that addresses nearly every aspect of public school operations, including the organization and general powers of school boards. However, the School Code is not the only place to find laws impacting public schools as there are many other state laws affecting operations that appear elsewhere in other statutes.  The Board works as a team with the superintendent to lead the district.  The Board’s job is to govern the district and the superintendent’s job is to manage the district by implementing the decisions of the board.  The law does not convey any power or authority upon individual School Board Directors to act on their own merely by virtue of their election to a school board.   School districts are corporate bodies with the necessary powers to enable them to carry out the provisions of the School Code. See, 24 P.S. §2-211.

School Board meetings are official business meetings, at which the School Board meets in their official capacity to deliberate and take action on the business of the school district. In accordance with the Board’s adopted Policy 006 Meetings and based on the PA Public School Code section 4-421, the School Board is required to meet at least once every two months, at specified times and places, to conduct the business of the school district.

The PA Public School Code, the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, the School Board’s adopted parliamentary procedure (such as Robert’s Rules of Order), and the School Board’s adopted policies establish the rules and requirements for how the Board meets and conducts its business. According to the Sunshine Act (65 Pa. C.S. Sec. 702), a meeting is “held for the purpose of deliberating agency business or taking official action.” The role of the School Board at meetings is to consider and discuss the information presented on the Board meeting agenda, and to take official action by voting on motions made regarding that business, for example, approving the hiring of personnel recommended by administration.

The Sunshine Act requires that official action and deliberations by a quorum of the Board and most Board committees take place at a meeting open to the public.  Boards must also announce to the public, in advance, when and where meetings will be held in order for the public to attend and have the opportunity to comment before the Board takes official action. The Sunshine Act permits school boards to discuss a limited number of items in a closed meeting or “out of sunshine.” Such meetings are called executive sessions and may be held only for the following reasons:

  1. Personnel matters.
  2. Information, strategy and negotiation related to negotiation or arbitration of a collective bargaining agreement.
  3. Consideration of the lease or purchase of property.
  4. Consulting with an attorney or other professional adviser about active or pending litigation.
  5. Discussing agency business which, if conducted in public, would violate a lawful privilege or lead to disclosure of information or confidentiality protected by law.
  6. Discussion of certain public safety issues if disclosure of the information would be reasonably likely to jeopardize or threaten public safety or preparedness or public protection.

The Sunshine Act also permits school board directors to attend a conference or a seminar, such as training sessions and informational briefings, without the public present.

The Sunshine Act and the Board’s adopted Policy 903 Public Participation in Board Meetings require the Board to allow the public to attend public meetings and provide a reasonable opportunity for residents or taxpayers (or other individuals who may be designated in Policy 903 such as students and employees) to provide civil comment “on matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board, prior to taking official action” (65 Pa. C.S. Sec. 710.1).

The district posts Board meeting agendas on the district website in advance of all public Board meetings, in accordance with Policy 006 and the Sunshine Act (65 Pa. C.S. Sec. 709), so that members of the public know what will be presented to the Board at each meeting. The Board may deliberate and take official action on matters not included in a posted agenda only under specific circumstances. (65 Pa. C.S. Sec. 712.1).

Check with your local board for Policy 903 and Policy 006. 

The Public School Code (section 407), Policies 006 and 903, and the Sunshine Act (Section 710) allow the Board to establish reasonable rules and regulations for conducting the business of the Board at public meetings.  School boards have the option to accept all public comment on agenda items at the beginning of the meeting, rather than before each vote on each individual agenda item.  Boards may set reasonable limits on the overall length of the comment period and the time allotted for each to comment.  The Board may choose to hear public comments on non-agenda items at the end of the board meeting.  The Board may also ask commenters to state their name and information for purpose of taking the Board meeting minutes.

As the School Board meeting is a meeting of the Board for official action, the presiding officer may act in accordance with board policy by exercising measures to maintain order which may include:

  • interrupting or terminating a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant.
  • requesting any individual to leave the meeting when that person does not observe reasonable decorum.
  • requesting the assistance of law enforcement officers to remove a disorderly person when the person’s conduct interferes with the orderly progress of the meeting.
  • calling a recess or adjourn to another time when the lack of public decorum interferes with the orderly conduct of the meeting.

Check with your local board for Policy 903 and Policy 006. 

The Pennsylvania School Code provides that in each school district, nine school directors are elected for four-year terms, with five to be elected in one municipal election and four to be elected two years later in the next municipal election.

Section 321 of the Public School Code provides that school directors shall serve without pay, except as otherwise provided in the School Code.  24 P.S. § 3-321. The only exception to that rule is, in third- and fourth-class school districts, a school director can be elected to the office of board secretary or treasurer and be paid. 24 P.S. §§ 4-404, 4-432, 4-438.

Section 315 of the Public School Code provides that when a vacancy occurs due to a school director’s death, resignation, moving out of the district or out of their election region or other reasons, the remaining members of the school board, if still constituting a majority of the statutory membership, must appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy within 30 days of when the vacancy occurs.

An appointee must be at least eighteen (18) years of age and a resident of the district for at least one (1) year prior to the date of their appointment. If the district elects school directors through a regional or combination region/at-large election plan, an appointee for a regional seat must reside in the region they will be representing. The appointee must not hold any other public offices that are designated as incompatible with the office of school director, or must resign the incompatible office before being sworn into a school board seat. A person who has been convicted of a felony or other crime involving deceitful conduct is not eligible to hold school board office.

Resources

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) was established in 1895 as the first school boards association in the nation. PSBA provides school leaders with training, support services and tools to help them perform their role. Required school director training is provided by PSBA, as the only approved statewide provider. For more information on PSBA and the support provided to school boards, go to PSBA.org.

SuccessStartsHere.org is a public awareness campaign supported by PSBA. The website displays school district and school board data as well as stories highlighting student programs and educational opportunities. Find out more about each district and their board.

Member resources are available at myPSBA.org.