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School Councils

Questions & Answers on School Councils

Part Two: Legal Responsibilities
G. Accountability and Oversight

What authority do school committees have over school councils?
The relationship between school committees and school councils has a strong potential for reaffirming and strengthening lay governance in public education. The law provides for an explicit oversight role for school committees. School committees have the responsibility to:

  • Set district-wide performance standards and educational policies that building level school improvement plans must take into account.

  • Review and approve building level school improvement plans.

  • Approve a representative process for the election of parent and teacher members of the council.

The intent of the law is to provide for a more participatory style of management at the school building level. School committees need to work with the superintendent and engage the whole community in developing local guidelines that achieve the legislation's intent. School committees can, at their option, develop local guidelines that:

  • Define the review process for the school improvement plans.

  • Set targets for ethnic representativeness on the council.

  • Set the terms of office for council members and set other guidelines for councils that reflect school committees' experience and practice in participatory and inclusive decision making. However, the guidelines cannot impede councils' obligation to fulfill their mandated functions.

  • Describe additional elements to be addressed in each school's improvement plan.

Finally, the law does not require, but does enable, school committees to "grant school councils additional authority in the area of educational policy." This practice is encouraged by the Department.
Are school council members "public officials" and as such subject to conflict of interest provisions?
Yes. According to the State Ethics Commission's Opinion EC-COI-93-21 (October 19, 1993), school councils are considered municipal agencies and their members, although they serve without compensation, are considered municipal employees for purposes of the conflict of interest law. This provision may be especially relevant to parent and community members of councils who may serve on other municipal agencies, boards and commissions within the community or who may do business with the city or town agencies. Because the circumstances of each case are different, the Department suggests that conflict of interest questions be directed to the State Ethics Commission, One Ashburton Place, Room 619, Boston, MA 02108. Telephone: (617) 727-0060. FAX: (617) 723-5851.
May the school committee adopt local conflict of interest provisions that are more stringent than those contained in state law?
Yes. The conflict of interest law, G.L.c. 268A, specifically provides that municipal agencies are not precluded "from establishing and enforcing additional standards of conduct." Therefore, a school committee may adopt additional standards of conduct. However, such standards must be reasonable and consistent with the purpose and intent of the Education Reform Act.
If the school council surveys parents, teachers, or others about issues related to school improvement, are the survey results available to the public?
Yes. Under the Public Records Law, documents made or received by a state or local government agency (including a school council) are "public records," unless they fall within one of the exemptions specified in the law. For example, memos or letters relating to policy positions still being developed by the agency are exempt, but "reasonably completed factual studies or reports on which the development of such policy positions has been or may be based" are public records. The aggregate survey results would be a public record, available to any person upon request.
Are the composition, role and functions of the school council subject to collective bargaining?
To the extent that the composition, role, and functions of the school council are defined by statute, those matters are not subject to collective bargaining. For example, the statute specifies the proportion of teachers, parents and other members on the council, and the manner in which teachers are selected. It also defines the role of the council: to meet regularly with the principal and assist in identifying the educational needs of students in the school, reviewing the annual school budget, and formulating the school improvement plan. A school committee may grant a school council additional authority in the area of educational policy, but the statute is clear that school councils shall have no authority over matters that are subject to Chapter 150E, the state law on labor relations and collective bargaining for public employees.

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Last Updated: January 27, 1994
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