I Can Help the School Board Expedite Its Meeting: A Trustee Is Powerless

Mike Miles runs the school district. The board as a corporate entity is his boss. Any questions?

DISD_Board_2014

The Dallas ISD school board is right now having a meeting to clarify the role and authority of school board members and the superintendent. I’m watching and will have a recap tomorrow, but first I should clarify something for the hundredth time here.

The DMN last week gave odd credence to Carla Ranger, Esq., when it highlighted her post that supposedly shows how Mike Miles broke state law. It basically said that school trustees have authority to do whatever they want on school grounds.

For the millionth time, this is absurd. State law could not be clearer on this. I’ve heard the state’s top education lawyer, David Thompson, explain it more than once to the board, but you don’t need a lawyer to read easily Goggle-able state law.

First, here is what Carla Ranger cited when she suggested that Mike Miles broke state law by kicking out Bernadette Nutall from a Dade Middle School staff meeting:

“All rights and titles to the school property of the district, whether real or personal, shall be vested in the trustees and their successors in office.”

Does the Texas Education Code say this? You bet! But if you read the entire section from which it’s taken, you’ll see what it really means. (Law, unlike most journalism, appreciates context.) Here is the relevant portion:

SUBCHAPTER D. POWERS AND DUTIES OF BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT

Sec. 11.151. IN GENERAL. (a) The trustees of an independent school district constitute a body corporate and in the name of the district may acquire and hold real and personal property, sue and be sued, and receive bequests and donations or other moneys or funds coming legally into their hands.
(b) The trustees as a body corporate have the exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district. All powers and duties not specifically delegated by statute to the agency or to the State Board of Education are reserved for the trustees, and the agency may not substitute its judgment for the lawful exercise of those powers and duties by the trustees.
(c) All rights and titles to the school property of the district, whether real or personal, shall be vested in the trustees and their successors in office. The trustees may, in any appropriate manner, dispose of property that is no longer necessary for the operation of the school district.
(d) The trustees may adopt rules and bylaws necessary to carry out the powers and duties provided by Subsection (b).
(e) A school district may request the assistance of the attorney general on any legal matter. The district must pay any costs associated with the assistance.

As is made clear (many, many times in the TEC), by “trustees” the law means the “body corporate.” No individual trustee has any more authority than you or I outside of that body — meaning, if you can get five votes, you can do anything you want. If you can’t, you are subject to the person who has absolute authority over every campus and employee in the district — the superintendent, i.e., the person the board hired for that position.

How am I absolutely sure that’s what the law means when it says “trustees”? I listen during meetings when David Thompson explains the law, that’s how. How else do I know? It says so in the TEC! For the, I dunno, billionth time, the relevant portion of the law is as follows:

Sec. 11.051. GOVERNANCE OF INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT; NUMBER OF TRUSTEES. (a-1) Unless authorized by the board, a member of the board may not, individually, act on behalf of the board. The board of trustees may act only by majority vote of the members present at a meeting held in compliance with Chapter 551, Government Code, at which a quorum of the board is present and voting. The board shall provide the superintendent an opportunity to present at a meeting an oral or written recommendation to the board on any item that is voted on by the board at the meeting.

What authority does the superintendent have?

SUBCHAPTER E. SUPERINTENDENTS AND PRINCIPALS

Sec. 11.201. SUPERINTENDENTS. (a) The superintendent is the educational leader and the chief executive officer of the school district.

The authority and responsibility of the superintendent is expanded upon in great detail if you want to read it. But, bottom line: He’s the top dog. The board, as a corporate body, is his boss. But individual trustees, unless authorized by the board, answer to the superintendent day to day.

Do we ever need to go over this again?

No, you say? I don’t believe you. Because we keep getting tested on this material, and some of us clearly aren’t prepping for the exams.

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