California’s K-12 schools are run by independent government special districts, called local education agencies in government parlance and school districts by the rest of us.
They are separate from cities, but do report on some matters to county Offices of Education. The state has final authority over how schools are run. An appointed State Board of Education sets key policy. A Department of Education, under the direction of an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, executes those policies.
The federal government also plays a role in providing financial aid, especially for low-income students; federal funds come with mandates to follow specific federal rules, including annual testing of students at specific grade levels in English and math.
School districts typically are overseen by elected boards of trustees that set policy and hire a chief executive, called a superintendent. Boards usually have five to seven members, sometimes chosen at large from across a district and sometimes drawn from candidates who live in a specific region of the district.
In addition to administrators, who typically make up 5 percent or less of a school district’s staffing, schools employ certificated staff – primarily teachers – and classified staff – primarily support workers such as groundskeepers and janitors. A small number of employees is categorized as student services workers. The precise definition of who belongs to which group varies from district to district. In all, teachers typically make up about half a school district’s employees, though they have a much bigger profile than the support staff or administrators.
Staff members work varying lengths of the year.
Teachers typically work a few days more than a 180-instructional year – the extra time used in professional development or to prepare for instruction. Some staff work 10 months out of the year and some, including administrators, works 12 months. Additionally, some districts operate as year-round schools, in which staggered cohorts of students are educated with small breaks as opposed to taking one longer, shared summer break.
Schools are run by principals under the direction of the district administration. Some school districts give principals wide latitude to shape campus programs. School site councils provide parents with avenues to share perspectives on how their local schools are run. Parent teacher groups often provide financial support and funnel volunteer help to districts.
School funding breaks into several major pieces. Operating funds are administered by the state and include state dollars, local property taxes and federal money. In some cases, schools benefit from local parcel taxes and other local funding streams.
School facilities are funded separately; schools regularly seek local voter approval of bond measures to build or repair buildings; many times, the state matches dollars raised through statewide bond measures.