A Headshot of Keith Bray

legal insights


A reflection on a year — and a career


he start of a new year seems like a good time to look back at 2023 and take stock of the trends and education issues that defined the year and set the policy and legal stage for 2024.

Boards of education were active and engaged with their communities, exercising their statutory obligation to govern their schools and ensure every student received a free public education.

While districts and county offices of education had to contend with a long list of important issues, there were a few that made headlines or consumed the attention of the majority of districts and county offices of education. There was no shortage of so-called culture wars playing out at local board meetings. Double digit raises for school employees came to an end and searches for students missing from attendance rolls were ongoing. Teachers sought affordable housing and districts and county offices of education sought after teachers and bus drivers to fill their local needs. What could be read by students and what could be taught by teachers became even more of an issue in California and across the nation. And at governing board meetings, discord between boards and members of the public and among board members themselves rose to concerning levels.

silhouettes of people talking to each other with colored chat bubbles

We are living in a very dynamic and divisive time. It is an era brought about by voices, some not very civil — much less polite — seeking to change decisions, many of which were made decades ago, about how public education in California is delivered.

Will there be a respite in 2024? Probably not. What we heard in 2023 was just the warm-up band because what is happening on the national stage is also happening at the local level here in California. Parties vying for power at every level of government will be seen and heard very loudly, including in school board campaigns, which are no longer immune from partisan influence. More board of education voting majorities will likely change as new leaders emerge and more superintendents will retire and move on to greener pastures. Student board members will continue to strive for a larger role as student leaders on their governing boards. And finally, some state legislative leaders will likely continue to push for more state involvement in local districts.

We are living in a very dynamic time. It is an era brought about by voices seeking to change decisions, many of which were made decades ago, about how public education in California is delivered. Local school boards seeking to limit the erosion of local control and overcome the power of the state and federal governments may or may not be successful in their efforts as some of the same issues that are dividing families and communities are playing out in state and federal courts, in Congress, and in statehouses across the country. But regardless of the legal and legislative outcomes that may eventually shape public education in the years to come, students will always deserve more from the adults that lead, guide and raise them.

All of this change throughout the state and nation has been accompanied by a major personal change for me as well. It has been my privilege to write this Legal Insights column since it was first published almost a decade ago. Every attorney who has worked in CSBA’s Legal Department has also graced the pages of this magazine and our body of work really exemplifies our collective effort to “hit the seam” by addressing and analyzing issues that matter the most to governing boards serving communities in this state, from Alturas in the north to Vista in the south, to Clovis located somewhere in between. But all good things must come to an end and after almost 12 years as CSBA’s General Counsel, I am taking my leave.

2024 written in bold white lettering on a road

Since I left Chico State almost 47 years ago, I have been involved in the political arena in one way or another and my admiration for those in public office, who put themselves and their families on the line to serve our republic in a democratically elected office, is off the charts. And what better place to play the final coda than working for CSBA’s CEO & Executive Director, Vernon Billy, and the team here at CSBA. I am grateful for the opportunity to give all I had to give, especially during the COVID years, to an organization chock full of school board leaders who represent, at the most local level of government, the primary interest of every community, which is to see that their children are safe and sound at school and are being provided an unrestricted opportunity to learn and achieve.

What retirement holds for a self-proclaimed warrior for justice and common sense remains to be seen. The same can be said for many of the pending legal matters and societal issues that we are facing in this state and nation. How these issues will be decided is still up in the air as courts, legislatures and voters around the country consider different approaches and very likely reach conflicting decisions. Further, the impact that new issues such as artificial intelligence in the classroom, the projected $38 billion state budget deficit announced by Gov. Newsom on Jan. 10 (which the Legislative Analyst’s Office projected at $ 68 billion), and the rise of sexual assault claims against districts and county offices, many from decades ago, is unclear. There is no slowdown in the number of issues school districts and county offices may face.

And while the pressures of working life are lessening for me, the pressures experienced by school district and county board members are only growing. 2024 holds much unknown, but one thing is for certain, CSBA, as it has in the past, will be there to support governing boards and board members every step of the way.

Keith Bray is CSBA’s former General Counsel & Chief of Staff

Please note that the information provided here by CSBA is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. Please contact your district or county office of education’s legal counsel for legal questions related to this information.