Understanding the Board

Who is Responsible for Public Education in Missouri?
In America, education is primarily a responsibility of each state. Missouri's public education system is governed by federal laws and regulations, laws adopted by the Missouri General Assembly, and rules and regulations adopted by the State Board of Education and implemented by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. However, much of the control of public schools remains with local school districts. Local boards of education have considerable authority to adopt policies and establish educational programs that meet the needs of the students in their communities.

How Are School Districts Established?
School districts are created by state statutes. The Missouri General Assembly has the power to abolish local school districts at any time. Currently, there are 524 school districts in Missouri.

What is the Primary Function of a Local Board of Education?
Each school district is governed by a board of education, comprised of members officially referred to as "directors." Under state law, school board members are state officers who carry out the state's educational obligations at the local level. Every school board member must taken an oath of office promising to uphold all laws. The primary function of the board of education is to oversee the education of children in the community. Education programs are usually conducted at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, although many districts also operate preschool and adult education programs.

What are Some of the Powers and Duties of a Local School Board?
Under state law, a board of education has the ultimate responsibility for school district operations.

Each board has general powers to:

  • Educate students.
  • Employ a superintendent, administrators, teachers, and support staff.
  • Provide for the safety and welfare of students.
  • Acquire and dispose of school property.
  • Determine matters relating to school employees and contractors.
  • Control the expenditure and receipt of school funds.
  • Levy local taxes to run the school.

How are Members of the Board of Education Selected?
In most school districts in Missouri, voters elect board members on a nonpartisan ballot. The election is held on the first Tuesday in April. Nearly all school boards in Missouri have seven members who serve three-year terms.

Who is Eligible to Serve as a School Board Member?
In order to serve on a school board in Missouri a person must be a citizen of the United States; a resident taxpayer of the district; a resident of the state for one year preceding election or appointment; and be at least 24 years old. Board members come from all walks of life and serve as unpaid volunteers.

Is the Board of Education Responsible for Private or Charter Schools?
Local boards have no responsibility for the operation of nonpublic schools. Currently, charter schools are permitted only in the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. Those school boards are responsible for the schools they charter, but not for those chartered by other entities.

How Do School Boards Make Decisions?
A board of education can only act during legally called board meetings. School boards have only the power given them by state and federal constitutions and laws. An action of the board is not valid unless it receives a majority vote of the members at a board meeting. When making decisions, school boards may seek the advice of the district's administrators, teachers and other employees, as well as input from members of the community. Individual board members, acting on their own, have no legal authority.

Can People Attend School Board Meetings to See What the Board is Doing?
Yes. School boards must meet in compliance with the Sunshine Law and make public records available. Citizens are welcome at all board of education meetings, except for a few legally specified circumstances calling for closed meetings. Minutes of all open board meetings are available to the public. District budget and financial records, including salary records of school employees, are public documents and must be available to the public. In Missouri, school districts must also develop school improvement plans and make them available to the public.

How Can a Person Influence the Decision a School Board Makes?
An individual can present his or her point of view to a school board through letters to the board. Community members may make comments during the public participation portion of the board meeting. There are also community groups, such as parent-teacher associations, student groups and booster clubs that express opinions to the board.