A Guide for School Board Candidates in Pennsylvania
This webpage is packed full of information to help you make a decision about running for your school board. It's a big decision, so please take the time to know more.
What is a school board?
The decision to run for school board director must be informed by facts rather than impressions of the role. The choice must be made with a conscious understanding of the time commitment and realistic expectations of the work of the board. PSBA serves the needs of school directors by providing information, support and training. Some basic information to help you decide appears below.
A school board is a legislative body of citizens called school directors, who are elected locally by their fellow citizens and who serve as the governing body of each public school district. Because school districts are created by statute, they and their governing bodies are regarded as “creatures of the General Assembly” (our state legislature). As such, they function in a sense as agents of the commonwealth. Each board consists of nine members who serve four-year terms of office. Unlike most other elected officials, school directors receive no compensation for their work even though the position can require them to dedicate many hours to it.
School districts that choose to provide programs or information to assist members of their
community considering board service to gain a deeper understanding of the commitment
before they run for school board are encouraged to utilize this District Guide to further support their local programming.
Public education is fundamentally a state responsibility and enjoys special status under the state constitution. Article II, Section 14 states, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education . . .” Article IX, Section 10 expressly recognizes that school districts have the status of a “unit of local government.”
To carry out this mandate, the General Assembly first enacted laws creating a system of free public schools, organized into school districts governed by school boards, in 1834. These laws delegated broad powers to local school boards, conferring a great degree of autonomy in many aspects of their responsibilities. Over time, the General Assembly also enacted laws creating the State Board of Education, the Department of Education, the intermediate unit structure and other state agencies. These agencies administer the state laws and regulations that control various aspects of the state's public education system.
Despite the broad powers delegated to school boards, the work of governing a public school system still must happen in an environment highly regulated from the state and federal levels, involving numerous mandates, restrictions and technicalities with which school boards must comply.
School board responsibilities
A school board's authority is exercised through the collective decisions of the entire board acting as a governing body. The law does not convey any power or authority upon individual school board directors acting on their own merely by virtue of their office.
School boards are subject to the Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act, which requires school boards to deliberate and make their decisions at meetings that are open to the public and advertised in advance. The Sunshine Act also mandates that in those meetings, school boards must allow citizens a reasonable opportunity to speak to the board about the matters the board is deciding.
Although the law does not give individual powers to school directors beyond their voices and votes at school board meetings, they do have a number of important individual responsibilities in order to be effective in contributing to the board’s collective functions. These responsibilities are reflected in the Principles for Governance and Leadership. Board directors must be prepared to devote the time necessary to carry these out and to commit to ongoing learning about the issues and requirements involved.
How school directors are elected
School board directors in Pennsylvania are elected public officials. A portion of school directors are elected every other year in the municipal election, which occurs in November of odd-numbered years. The terms of office of school directors begin and end on the first Monday of December following that election.
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. This 5-4 rotation helps ensure continuity, so that there are always at least some members of the board who have two or more years of experience.
At-Large and Regional Election Plans
- School districts may adopt one of three types of election plans: at large; by region; or by a combination of regional and at-large seats.
- If elected at large, candidates must be residents of the school district, but may live anywhere in the district and are chosen by all the voters in the district.
- If elected by region, school directors who reside in each region are elected by the voters of their respective regions, with each region electing an equal number.
- Under combined plans, all regions elect an equal number of school directors who reside in each region and who are elected only by the voters of their region, and some directors are elected at large by voters districtwide.
- Candidates elected by region must continue to reside in that region during their term of office.
Vacancies caused by resignation, death, moving out of the district or region, etc., are filled by an appointment process conducted by the remaining board directors. If less than two years remain before the former director’s term expires, a director appointed to fill that vacancy serves for the remainder of the term.
Who is eligible for election as a school director?
- At least eighteen (18) years of age as of the date of the November municipal election.
- Good moral character.
- U.S. citizen domiciled in Pennsylvania
- Resident of the school district for at least one (1) year prior to the date of the November municipal election (or prior to appointment if appointed).
- Must have no record of conviction for any felony offense, or any misdemeanor offense involving dishonesty or other “moral turpitude”. A federal law known as the Hatch Act prohibits all federal employees and employees of state or local governments whose positions are funded entirely from federal sources from being candidates in partisan political elections for public office, including school boards.
- The Hatch Act does not prohibit holding elective office if appointed to fill a vacancy.
- Active-duty military, including reservists serving on active duty, are prohibited by federal law and Department of Defense regulations from running for or holding partisan political office.
- School directors cannot be employed by their school district during the term for which elected.
- The office of school director is designated as incompatible with most other local government elective offices; incompatible offices cannot be held simultaneously.
How to become a candidate
To become a school board candidate, you must file nominating petitions signed by at least 10 registered members of the political party for which nomination is sought. A petition signature is valid only if the signer would be eligible to vote for that candidate in the primary based on residence and party for which registered.
Only registered members of the political party for which nomination of that party is sought, may circulate nominating petitions. Signers may sign the petitions of more than one candidate for the office of school director for up to the total number of seats available. Any and all documents must be notarized.
The Election Code allows candidates to cross-file for nomination to seek the nomination of more than one major political party. To cross file, you must fulfill the petition requirements noted above.
Under Pennsylvania’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, each candidate for the office of school director must file a statement of financial interest for the preceding calendar year with the school board secretary of the school district. A copy of the statement also must be attached to the nomination petition filed with the county board of elections.
Pennsylvania’s Campaign Expense Reporting Law also requires candidates to file campaign finance reports listing campaign expenditures and contributions received.
Prior to each election year, the Commonwealth’s Department of State Bureau of Elections distributes a complete election calendar with specific dates and other legal requirements to all county offices. Forms for nominating petitions, statements of financial interest, campaign finance reports and other information about these requirements can be obtained from the county board of elections and other municipal offices.
Many things must be taken into consideration when deciding whether to run for election to a local school board. One important component to understand is the legal requirements and technical aspects involved in seeking office and becoming an elected official. Download this guide to understand more about the legal and technical considerations for school director candidates. PSBA's legal staff can also provide answers to questions about these requirements.