President’s Message: Susan Markarian
Advocacy is essential for school trustees
State and federal advocacy ensures local voices are considered
The role of a school board trustee is more complex than most people realize. In fact, the demands of the job often surprise recently elected board members as they acclimate to their new position. In addition to the policymaking and fiduciary roles, trustees must create a long-term vision for the school system; establish a clear direction for the local district or county office of education; oversee the development of bylaws and policies; employ the superintendent; approve curriculum; adopt the budget, Local Control and Accountability Plan and collective bargaining agreements; oversee facilities issues; engage with the public; and communicate strategy and decisions to constituents.

Being a board member is a full-time job, often disguised as a volunteer public service opportunity, so it’s understandable that many trustees are reluctant to look beyond the considerable governance responsibilities of their board. Yet, statewide advocacy, as daunting as it may seem, is a critical part of serving as a local trustee. Our legislative advocacy creates the very context in which we operate as district and county board members and our actions have the potential to shift that context in a positive direction that makes our work easier and enables us to do more for students. If we fail to engage vigorously with our representatives in Sacramento, however, then policy and legislative conditions will drift further from what’s conducive for good governance and continuous improvement in our public schools.

This is why it’s so important that members carve out time for advocacy that extends beyond their local board meetings. A perfect example lies just around the corner, from March 14–16, in the form of virtual Legislative Action Week — one of the most important activities on CSBA’s annual calendar. Legislative Action Week connects local district and county trustees with members of the California Legislature and their staff, providing a special platform to influence vital budget and legislative issues.

CSBA Governmental Relations staff will schedule Zoom meetings with your local legislators during the workday March 14–16, giving you the chance to meet with the senators, assemblymembers and staff who represent your school district or COE. CSBA staff will also provide training and tips to make your meeting as productive as possible, including a webinar in early March to review talking points and best practices for legislative advocacy in a virtual context. We’ve found over the last couple years that the virtual format results in higher member participation rates, is more well received by legislators and staff, and allows us to schedule a greater number of meetings with the legislators from your communities.

Headshot of Susan Markarian
“Advocacy helps to combat the one-size-fits-all mentality that comes from legislators failing to understand just how different each one of our districts is.”
Susan Markarian, CSBA President
I strongly encourage you to hone your advocacy skills and to represent your school district or COE to the fullest by taking part in Legislative Action Week and other lobbying opportunities, like our Coast2Coast Federal Advocacy Trip to Washington, D.C., scheduled for April 24–26. I understand if you think lobbying isn’t your thing. I feel the same way. Advocacy is my least favorite part of being a board member — but after becoming I trustee, I quickly learned the vital importance of advocating for our needs with the Legislature.

I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to advocate for the needs of students and our education system, and soon learned that my efforts helped to relieve some of the frustration over legislation that sometimes does more harm than good. Advocacy also helps to combat the one-size-fits-all mentality that comes from legislators failing to understand just how different each one of our districts is — an area of special concern for small and rural districts and COEs.

It’s critical that we have local control and sustained, adequate funding so that we can build budgets that link with our strategic plans, support our students and allow us to remain focused on improving student outcomes. If you have not engaged in advocating for the needs of your district or county office, I would strongly encourage you to join the many opportunities CSBA provides. There is strength in numbers and when more of us advocate for public education, more favorable legislation will be passed and additional resources will be granted. We’ll be able to develop a better policy environment for schools, and our students will benefit through an improved scholastic experience and better academic outcomes.