Governance corner
Practical tips from our MIG faculty
How might the school board prioritize and allocate resources in a small school district?
Magnifying lens on a blue wooden block house next to a taller yellow block house
President Thomas Jefferson is credited with the famous phrase, “All men are created equal,” but while concepts of good governance are universal when it comes to how school boards operate, few would opine that all school districts are created equal. Leaders of California’s hundreds of small school districts would contend they face challenges different from larger school systems. Chiefly, the task of setting district priorities and resourcing them is critically relevant to small school districts.

“I spent almost 20 years as a board of trustees’ member in three different rural, small school districts,” said Tom Wheeler, a current Madera County Board of Supervisors member. “Between busing, travel distances, utilities, 80-plus percent of your budget going to staff — it’s really hard to balance your budget and give everything you can for your students to succeed.”

CSBA President and Pacific Union Elementary School District trustee Susan Markarian pointed to the multiple roles that small school district employees play. “Small district boards must always keep in mind when establishing priorities that the superintendent of a small district has limited administrative staff,” she said. “Their superintendents wear most of the hats required to successfully run a district, and it is critical that boards set priorities and goals that are respectful of the resources and staffing limitations.”

Questions for boards of small school districts to consider:

  • In what ways can we maximize relationships with our county office of education, neighboring districts and other partners to foster collaboration that helps balance priorities with resources?
  • How can we use innovative communications tactics to illuminate the special challenges small school districts face when engaging and informing our communities about how priorities are set and resources are allocated?
  • How can our district demonstrate vision and a forward-looking perspective by maximizing our advocacy efforts to protect and expand future funding sources?

CSBA has a host of resources available on its website and through trainings for trustees from school districts large and small. Visit the CSBA website for a list of current virtual and in-person trainings. Courses are also available in the Online Learning Center, which can be accessed anywhere, anytime. Visit for more information.