Legal Authority of School Boards


The origin of school boards occurred when the colonial legislature of Massachusetts passed a law that gave people the power to establish schools. In the seventeenth century, Selectmen, the elected representatives of the people, appointed townspeople to a committee to oversee schools. This was the beginning of local control of schools by lay citizens.  From this beginning, school boards evolved.

The official duties of school boards have changed throughout history. One of the primary documents that governs the actions of the school district is the Michigan Constitution and more specifically the Revised School Code.  

Among other duties, the Revised School Code gives each board of education general powers to:

  • Educate students
  • Provide for the safety and welfare of students
  • Acquire, maintain and dispose of school property
  • Determine matters relating to school employees and contractors
  • Make joint agreements and cooperative arrangements

Specific provisions in the Revised School Code also assign responsibilities to school boards in areas such as:

  • Setting the curricula and courses taught in the schools
  • Employing a superintendent
  • Adopting a budget
  • Deciding whether or not to furnish transportation for pupils
  • Negotiating with employee unions regarding salaries and other conditions of employment

The board of education operates as a corporate body. Individual school board members have no authority to act independently, and cannot commit or bind the board by their individual actions. Powers and duties of the board must be exercised by the board as a whole. 

For the board of education to take action, the action must be voted on at a public meeting by a majority vote of the members elected to and serving on the board and a proper record made of the vote. The meeting must be properly convened and comply with proper notice to the board (Revised School Code; bylaws) and proper notice to the public (Open Meetings Act).  

The regulations that govern how your school board operates are determined by the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and your own school policies and the by-laws for your board of education. It is important that you are aware of the policies and by-laws that your school board has established and follow them carefully in order to avoid any fines and law suits for violations.