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Now Is the Time to Join Your School’s Governance Team

Here’s Why, and How to Do It

The State of California is pumping stimulus money into schools like a kid pumps pencil shavings into the back of his desk. As a teacher, I’d like to see more than my union, or my district decides what to do with it.

For many parents and teachers, it’s tempting to sit back and trust it will be spent on what we want the most for our children and our students.  But since the rise of high-stakes testing in the early 2000s, history says that money will be spent on one thing-raising test scores. And that is often to the exclusion of anything else. 

But survey after survey shows us parents (and teachers and students) want more. So, if programs, activities, personnel, and sponsorships that bring our children back (and better) from the pandemic matter to you, I’ve got great news. You can be a part of the decision-making process at your local school. You can have a massive impact on how dollars are spent there.  All you need to do is join your Site Governance Team and/or your School Site Council. 

Here’s how you do it, and why it’s so incredibly important that you do.

What are the SGT and the SSC, and why are they critical to school spending?

Public education is just that. It’s a service to and of the public. Because of that, two voting committees exist in order to allow public input and voting into how a school spends its money. Both committees include the principal, teachers and other school staff, a teacher union representative and importantly parents. Both committees vote on plans that direct where discretionary funds (funds used at the discretion of the site) go. The first of these is the Site Governance Team which is responsible for developing, implementing and evaluating their school site plan. Another committee, the School Site Council decides how to use categorical budgets, like Title 1 and GATE (gifted and talented education) monies.

How the SGT and SSC function and why your input can be critical early rather than later

Both the SGT and SSC are voting committees where, depending on bylaws, parents can have nearly half of the voting power.  Importantly, voting decisions to start or end programs sometimes have years’ long effects. That means the earlier you join either committee, the more impact you may have on your child’s education while they are at the school. 

SGTs and SSCs most often function using Robert’s Rules of Order. In each space, public input is allowed, and items can be placed on the agenda for future meetings by any member. Furthermore, the discussion is embedded into decision-making which means these committees are a terrific way for parents and teachers to ask and find answers to questions before any program is implemented or taken away.

Want more counselor time? Concerned about the school uniform policy? Would you like to see more books in your school library? Is a pick-up, drop-off procedure affecting your daily routine? These are the types of conversations you can have, and more importantly, make motions and give votes for (or against) in either your school’s SGT or SSC.

How to join and why you may want to bring a few friends

By law, the minutes and the agenda for the SGT and SSC are to be displayed publicly. The bylaws for each committee are also public documents and state clearly how stakeholders such as parents may join. First, you may wish to simply sit in on your SGT and/or SSC meetings which are held monthly. There you can observe the make-up of the team and see how business is conducted.

If you do not see enough active parent members (as can often be the case), joining may be as simple as arriving and accepting a spot de facto. In fact, a business can be conducted and votes can be (and sadly often are in some schools)  cast with a simple quorum-in some cases to the exclusion of a single parental vote. If you observe that the makeup of your school’s SGT and SSC is lacking parental input, you may wish to bring some friends with you next time. The simple truth is that a public school, like any public institution, does better when parents are giving their input.

If your school has enough parent members already, a simple yearly or bi-yearly vote may be conducted. Either way, the chances are very good that a spot exists for you on the team. And that is exactly what a school should be-a a team that has the best interests of your student at heart.  And that’s definitely where you come in. So join the SGT and SSC at your school site.

Be a part of making lasting decisions using the stimulus money you pay for in taxes for what you feel is essential for your child post-pandemic.

Thomas Courtney is the 2020-2021 SDUSD Elementary District Teacher of the Year. He is also a 20-year teacher at Chollas-Mead Elementary where he has served on his SGT and SSC for many years–as both a member and a chairperson, a teacher and a parent.

Thomas Courtney is a senior policy fellow with Teach Plus, a member of Edsource's Advisory Committee,...

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