Roles & Responsibilities of School Boards and Superintendents

  • "What is the role of the Board and what is the role of the superintendent in the operation of the school district?" This is a question often asked and misunderstood by Board members and superintendents.

    The age-old statement that the Board sets policy and the superintendent administers that policy would seem to indicate a clear dividing line between the respective roles. That distinction, however, is not always so clear, nor is it one upon which everyone involved agrees.

    Board members are usually "doers"; they operate businesses, run homes, and buy supplies. "Doers" often find it hard to look at the big picture and make decisions that cause other people to "do" the job. They are often tempted to get in and "do" the job themselves. Conflicts arise when the Board and the superintendent have not defined their specific roles within the district.

    Because the needs of a district vary and leadership and management styles vary, the real need in each district is for the board and superintendent to decide what each is to do and establish proper policies and procedures that will lead to the performance of those duties.

    As they make decisions and find themselves involved in the business of the district, board members should ask themselves: "Am I providing leadership to the superintendent and staff and establishing policy for the district, or have I stepped into the role of administrator?”

    Superintendents should ask themselves: "Am I providing leadership to the board in pointing out areas where policy is needed, or am I usurping the Board's responsibility by establishing policy? Worse yet, am I forcing the board to make administrative decisions because I don't want to take the responsibility?"

    Keeping roles clear and communication open is the key to good Board and superintendent relationships.