Oversight of Personnel
The board of education plays an essential role in staffing the school system. First and foremost, it is the board’s statutory obligation to elect a superintendent, who is entitled to a written contract. The superintendent’s contract may be extended or renewed in accordance with the law.
The superintendent is the chief administrative officer for the school system. He or she is responsible for implementing the board’s policies and educational vision, while ensuring that the school system complies with numerous federal and state mandates. The board of education is empowered to prescribe specific duties for the superintendent.
The local board’s oversight of personnel also encompasses:
- Maintaining the confidentiality of personnel information;
- The employment of all other employees, based on the superintendent’s recommendations;
- Determining the length of employment contracts for each individual teacher, based on the superintendent’s recommendation;
- Holding hearings to determine whether an employee has stated a valid grievance;
- Holding hearings to determine whether to uphold the superintendent’s recommendation that an employee be disciplined or dismissed; and
- Determining whether to uphold the superintendent’s recommendation that an employee’s contract should not be renewed at the end of a school year.
Note that there is a difference between dismissing an employee and non-renewing an employee’s contract. There are extensive procedures in place governing the severing of employment of (1) a teacher with career status or (2) a teacher during the term of an employment contract. Such teachers are entitled to a hearing at which they may be represented by counsel, present their own witnesses and other evidence, and question the administration’s witnesses.
By contrast, if the superintendent merely recommends that a teacher’s employment contract not be renewed for the following year, there are few procedural protections for the teacher. The board may grant the teacher a hearing upon request.
The board does not have a legal obligation to approve the superintendent’s recommendations as to hiring, discipline, non-renewal, or dismissal. The North Carolina Supreme Court has explicitly held that a board is entitled to reject the superintendent’s recommendations, because “[u]ltimate responsibility for [teachers’] employment … rests with the board.” Taylor v. Crisp, 286 N.C. 488 (1975).
On the other hand, the board should not just “rubber-stamp” the superintendent’s recommendations. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has held that even in non-renewal cases, in which teachers have significantly fewer procedural protections than in dismissals, the local board has “the responsibility … to ascertain the rational basis for the [superintendent’s] recommendation before acting upon it.” Abell v. Nash Co. Bd. of Educ., 71 N.C. App. 48 (1984).
Finally, employment decisions cannot be made on any prohibited basis, such as for personal, political, or discriminatory reasons. There must be a rational basis for a local board’s decision, evidenced in either the documents the local board considered in making a decision or, when a hearing is held, the record of the hearing.
School systems are funded by a combination of federal, state, and local funds, in addition to grants and gifts. While the federal and state funds are distributed based on various formulas, the amount of local funds that will be made available to each school system is determined by the board of county commissioners. State law requires the following steps in the development of the school system’s budget:
- The superintendent prepares a budget for submission to the board, subject to certain limitations imposed by state law;
- The superintendent submits the proposed budget to the board no later than May 1;
- On the same day the budget is submitted to the board, the superintendent also files a copy, available for public inspection, in his or her office;
- The board considers the budget, making any changes it deems advisable, and submits the entire budget to the board of county commissioners no later than May 15 (or later, at the county commissioners’ discretion);
- The board of county commissioners is required to determine the amount of local funding that will be made available to the board of education no later than July 1 (or later, if agreeable to the board of education); and
- After the board of county commissioners makes its appropriations, the board of education adopts a budget resolution.
The superintendent may seek to amend the budget resolution during the school year.
In addition to approving a proposed budget and passing a budget resolution, the board of education is also responsible for recovering any funds that might be owed to the school system and setting the tuition rates for students who are not entitled to attend the schools. Local boards of education also act as stewards of funds generated by bond referenda and can reallocate such funds from one construction project to another, under certain circumstances.
In both student and employee matters, the local board of education often sits as a quasi-judicial body. Local board members may be called upon to decide, among other things:
- Whether the superintendent’s recommendation that a student be expelled or suspended from school for 10 days or more should be upheld;
- Whether the superintendent’s recommendation that an employee be suspended without pay for disciplinary reasons should be upheld;
- Whether the superintendent’s recommendation than an employee be dismissed from employment should be upheld; or
- Whether a student or employee has stated a valid grievance.
Board members are expected to be unbiased and impartial in making decisions in these matters and should rely on the information shared at the hearing or administrative proceeding convened to determine these issues.
This need for impartiality is one reason that board members are encouraged to refer complaints about particular students or employees to the superintendent and other senior administrators rather than attempt to resolve such issues with the involved parties. Consider a board member who becomes personally involved in attempting to resolve an employee matter, for example. If the board is asked to determine whether the employee in question should be disciplined or even dismissed, it may be difficult for the board member who has personal knowledge to set aside that knowledge and make decisions solely based on the information presented in the hearing.
This need for impartiality is also the reason that the superintendent may be circumspect in sharing information about an employee about whom allegations of misconduct have been made. It is important that board members make decisions based on information that has been substantiated and shared with all board members in a hearing, rather than initial allegations that may or may not be accurate.