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School Councils

Questions & Answers on School Councils

Part Two: Legal Responsibilities
B. Membership Composition



Who is to be on the council?
 
The legislation specifies that the council is to consist of parents of students attending the school, teachers, and "other persons drawn from such groups or entities as municipal government, business and labor organizations, institutions of higher education, human service agencies or other interested groups, including those from school-age child care programs." Also, for schools containing any of grades nine to twelve, there should be at least one student on the council.
 
How many members should the council contain?
 
The law leaves it up to each principal, "pursuant to a representative process approved by the superintendent and school committee," to define the size and composition of the council. It does, however, make three stipulations about membership.
  1. Parents "shall have parity with professional personnel on the school councils." Regardless of the size of the council, the number of parent representatives must be equal to the number of teachers who serve on the council plus the principal.

  2. "Not more than fifty percent of the council shall be non-school members." "Non-school members" are defined as members who are "other than parents, teachers, students and staff at the school."

  3. The membership of school councils "should be broadly representative of the racial and ethnic diversity of the school building and community."

 
What is the reason for parity in representation among parents, community members, and school professionals?
 
The provision of "parity" is based on the experience of the Chapter 188 school improvement councils and the national research on effective school-community councils. Research on small group dynamics in groups that mix lay people (e.g., parents) and professionals has shown that when lay people are outnumbered they are not likely to articulate their special perspective as "customers" of the school. "Parity" provides a critical mass in which parents can feel comfortable in expressing their views while educators retain a strong voice on the council.
 
In situations in which differences of opinion are split along lay-professional lines, "parity" creates pressure for compromising and reaching consensus, since neither side can override the other with its numerical majority.
 
What is the term of office for council members?
 
The law silent on this issue, leaving it up to the individual principals to make this determination. For a discussion of the knowledge-base on effective school council functioning in the area of open-ended versus fixed terms of office, please see Question 50 below.
 
May non-classroom based school professionals serve in the "teacher" membership category on the council?
 
Yes, if they are elected by the faculty at the school. Other professional personnel -- resource room teachers, specialists, counselors, etc. -- provide services to students and bring another perspective to the council's discussions and planning process.
 
May other school staff serve on the council and, if so, in what membership category?
 
"Other school staff" includes custodians, lunchroom staff, and others who are not education professionals. Like non-classroom based education professionals, these people can provide an important perspective on the needs of the school and its students. Other school staff, who are not parents, teachers, or students at the school, may be appointed to serve as "other person" members. It is important, however, to maintain a balance so that the council's "other person" membership category is not filled exclusively or even predominantly by school employees.
 
May an individual who is a teacher at another school in the district serve as an "other person" community member of the council?
 
The law is silent on this matter. It defines the "other person" as someone who is "not a parent or teacher of students at the school." It further describes the "other persons" on the council as "drawn from such groups or entities as municipal government, business or labor organizations, institutions of higher education, or other interested parties." Therefore, a teacher or administrator from another school in the district who is a member of any of the groups enumerated above can serve as an "other person" on any school council. In filling these positions, it is important to maintain a balance in representation between educator and lay members of the council in order to adhere to the "parity" standard referred to in the law.
 
In what capacity may an individual who is both a parent and a teacher at the school serve on the council?
 
If a parent of a child attending the school also serves as a teacher at that school, that person can serve only as a teacher member of a council. An individual who is supervised and evaluated by the principal cannot be elected as a parent member of a council that is co-chaired by that same principal.
 
May substitute teachers serve on the council? In what capacity?
 
The law is silent on this issue. The language regarding membership categories uses three terms, more or less synonymously, to refer to educators at the school: "teachers," "staff at the school," and "school-based professionals." Because substitutes have varying relationships with the school, such as occasional temporary, temporary full-time, and permanent full-time, the issue regarding substitutes revolves around the nature of the service. A full-time substitute teacher may be elected as a teacher member of the council. A parent of a student at the school who occasionally works as a substitute teacher at that school may be elected as a parent member of a council if the substitute service really is occasional, e.g., if the total number of days that the parent/substitute teacher serves as a substitute at that particular school does not exceed 90 days (more than half of a school year). Because the most important judges of representation are those who are being represented, it makes sense to check with the electorate -- the other parents or teachers -- to determine if they are comfortable choosing a substitute teacher as one of their peer representatives.
 
May administrators other than principals serve on the council?
 
No. One obtains a seat on the council through election by one's peers (parents or teachers) or by appointment (as in the case of community members). However, administrators, such as department heads, may be defined as faculty members and serve as teacher representatives if they have no supervisory authority over other teachers. Similarly, an assistant principal may serve as a teacher member of the council if she/he fulfills regular classroom teaching duties, does not exercise any supervisory authority over teachers, and is represented by the same bargaining unit as the other teachers.
 
What is the school's responsibility for establishing councils that are broadly representative of the racial and ethnic diversity of the school community?
 
The law reads "school councils should be broadly representative of the racial and ethnic diversity of the school building and the community." Schools have an affirmative action responsibility to undertake the outreach needed to ensure an opportunity for all racial and ethnic groups to participate in the council. This responsibility may not involve setting quotas or developing proportional representation plans that guarantee seats on the council to members of particular racial or ethnic groups. There are, however, several strategies schools can pursue to enhance racial and ethnic representation. (See question 29 below.)
 
May the same individual serve as an "other person" member on a number of different school councils?
 
Yes. There is nothing in the legislative language that prohibits this practice. Schools and school systems that exercise this option will want to consider the value-added benefit of having key community resource people serving on multiple councils: will their time and energy be stretched too thin?
 
Service on multiple councils may make sense, however, in instances in which a business, human service agency, or higher education institution is part of a partnership consortium with several schools.
 
May school committee members serve on a council in the school district that is overseen by the school committee?
 
A school committee member who is a parent of a student attending a school can run and be elected to serve as a parent member of a council. It is contrary to the spirit of the law, however, for a school committee member to be appointed to serve as an "other person" or public member of the council. The intent is to widen the base of citizen involvement and support for the school. School committee members are already involved at the highest level of local school governance and are not encouraged to serve on school councils.
 

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Last Updated: January 27, 1994
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