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Amplified Voice

TASB's Delegate Assembly in 1977

Each year at txEDCON, the room for TASB’s Delegate Assembly is set up with precision and everything is in place hours before delegates fill the rows of seats to finalize TASB’s Advocacy Agenda, vote on directors and officers, and conduct other Association business.

“My first Delegate Assembly, I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ and ‘How do I make a difference?’” said Larry “Doc” Hawthorne, president of the Hubbard ISD school board, a small rural district northeast of Waco. Hawthorne has been a Hubbard ISD trustee for 34 years and has participated in Delegate Assembly for more than two decades.

The establishment of Delegate Assembly marked a milestone in TASB’s history and its advocacy work. At the annual convention in 1966, Texas trustees in attendance unanimously voted to create a Delegate Assembly to provide a structure for TASB member boards to have a direct and equal voice in the determination of TASB priorities.

The first ever Delegate Assembly was held in Austin the next year, on Sept. 23, 1967, when 101 delegates considered resolutions and Association business. Since then, every Active Member has been invited to participate by sending a delegate and alternate to attend.

“It’s a rewarding experience in several ways,” Hawthorne said about his decades-long participation. “First, it gives you an opportunity to see things from more than just your local level to a statewide level, which broadens your understanding of the needs across the state. From a local district, we know what our needs are. But when we go to Delegate Assembly and go to Grassroots Meetings and go to legislative advisory type meetings, now we see how they all intertwine.”

Since it was established 75 years ago, TASB has understood the importance of advocacy and in harnessing the power of its school board members to amplify those efforts. Delegate Assembly marks a crucial step in that process as it establishes the TASB Advocacy Agenda — the two-year action plan used to guide TASB’s advocacy efforts at the Texas Capitol and beyond.

Over the years, as the Association has grown and advocacy needs have evolved, TASB has continuously refined and innovated its processes to ensure that the needs and priorities of member boards are heard and included.

Last year’s legislative season, which included four special sessions, highlighted the vital role advocacy plays in TASB’s mission to serve public school boards across Texas.

"Allowing school board members to participate in the development of the Advocacy Agenda and take part in the Delegate Assembly is crucial because it ensures that the diverse perspectives and insights from those who work closely with students, teachers, and the community are directly included in decision-making processes, including for our legislative priorities,” said Renae Mitchell, president of the Pflugerville ISD board, a large district north of Austin.

Mitchell said the TASB advocacy process encourages board members from small-to-large school districts to share their valuable viewpoints. “This participation fosters more comprehensive and effective advocacy efforts, leading to policies and initiatives that better address the needs and aspirations of our diverse student population, local schools, and their stakeholders. All our expressions come together united as one voice in advocacy for public education."

Advocacy in the Beginning

Since its inception, TASB has been dedicated to giving member school boards the opportunity to help establish a unified voice for public education. During the first TASB gathering in November 1949, 100 trustees met to discuss several issues, including the formation of a plan that was similar to today’s Advocacy Agenda. And as public education evolved, the Association began to focus its efforts more on the Texas Legislature and other arenas.

“TASB has always worked to ensure that every Active Member has the opportunity to participate in and directly contribute to the formation of the organization’s advocacy goals,” said TASB Executive Director Dan Troxell. “The Advocacy Agenda is the result of a truly grassroots process and is designed to represent the issues that matter most to our member boards and their school district communities across Texas.”

In TASB’s early years, the development of its legislative program featured members gathering in Austin to discuss those top issues and draft those priorities to guide the Association’s advocacy work.

TASB expanded that process in July 1990 with the formation of the Grassroots Advocacy Task Force, which consisted of 25 school board members from across the state. The task force, chaired by Wylie ISD trustee Alan Leverett, recommended that “TASB take the Association to its members, rather than ask school board members to come to Austin.” It was an important step toward including member voices from all parts of Texas.

“If TASB is to remain a strong representative of Texas school boards, the Association consistently must check the pulse of its membership to determine organizational positions on vital issues facing Texas education,” said Billy Walker, the TASB executive director at that time.

By 1992, TASB formed a comprehensive plan for developing its legislative agenda that had two processes. The first involved hosting regional Grassroots Meetings to hear trustees’ perspectives about local priorities that would then be proposed to the TASB Board of Directors before being presented at Delegate Assembly. The second process gave local boards the opportunity to submit resolutions directly to the TASB Board for consideration and then to Delegate Assembly for adoption. The results of those two processes created the Advocacy Agency.

Gathering Input at All Levels

Today, TASB’s grassroots process gathers valuable input from local trustees at every point in the development of its Advocacy Priorities. First, during even-numbered years, an electronic survey is distributed to all school board members asking what issues are most important to them. Those results are shared with trustees who attend the Grassroots Meetings, which are held that same year in each of the 20 education service center regions.

“What you all do today is a foundational step in developing what will eventually become the priorities that you all consider at TASB Delegate Assembly,” Dax González, division director of TASB Governmental Relations, told a group of trustees gathered for the Region 13 Grassroots meeting on Jan. 10.

“The fact that so many districts and so many perspectives are represented in this room is really the strength of this process,” said Lynn Boswell, Austin ISD trustee and TASB director. Boswell helped lead the Grassroots Meeting for Region 13 and guided fellow trustees through voicing priorities they brought from their districts.

At each Grassroots Meeting, trustees discuss and then vote on the issues most critical to their area, narrowing it down to their top five priorities. They also elect trustees to serve on the Legislative Advisory Council. Those LAC members, whose numbers are determined by student enrollment, will then work together to distill the regional priorities into one statewide list to recommend to the TASB Board of Directors.

“Looking back on almost 20 years at TASB, the one thing that has stood out the most to me has been our focus on our members — and that includes the continual improvement of our Advocacy Agenda process that is centered on member input and participation,” González said. “Very few, if any, membership associations go to the lengths that TASB does to gather as much local member voice as possible so that we can represent those voices at the Texas Capitol and beyond. That focus on our members drives me every day, and it’s something we can all be proud of.”

In another step to ensure representation, four LAC members are elected to sit on the TASB Board of Directors’ Legislative Committee, where they work to make sure the voice of local trustees is heard at the table when the Board makes its recommendations to Delegate Assembly.

Finally, through the resolutions process, member boards may submit issues that are important to them for consideration and possible inclusion in TASB’s broader legislative program. Advocacy Agenda Resolutions help direct TASB’s response to issues that may come up during the legislative biennium and are not directly addressed by the priorities.

“There are bound to be issues that arise during a legislative session that just aren’t covered by our Advocacy Priorities,” said González. “The resolutions process provides another important layer of guidance from our members.”

Delegate Assembly

The culmination of this grassroots process happens each year at Delegate Assembly, which coincides with txEDCON, the largest gathering of K-12 public education leaders in the state.

As TASB’s official membership meeting, delegates vote on a range of leadership and business matters. The meeting is held annually, and every Active Member board is strongly encouraged to send a representative to Delegate Assembly, where they can take an active role in determining the Association’s future.

“You can have one representative from your district,” said Hawthorne. “You can have a voice. “To me, it was always important to go to Grassroots Meetings, follow the grassroots process. And then go to the Delegate Assembly and go through that process,” Hawthorne said. “Without that you don’t know the founding parts of how the priority got started.”

Throughout the Delegate Assembly experience, there are many opportunities for members to be heard. The process starts with Regional Caucus meetings, which is an opportunity to share lunch with fellow regional representatives. These discussions offer clarity on issues before the Assembly and insight into the process, particularly for new delegates.

“The experience of advocating at the Delegate Assembly is transformative,” said James Matlock, a Hutto ISD trustee. Delegates can address the Assembly from the floor about items under consideration during the proceedings. “It fosters collaboration and dialogue among board members, allowing us to exchange ideas, share best practices, and collectively address the challenges facing public education.”

Hawthorne encourages all board members to be part of this advocacy process. “You have an opportunity to persuade other trustees about your position,” he said. “Be genuine and tell your story. Tell how it affects student outcomes, because at the end of the day that is what it’s all about. We all want better outcomes for our students.”

Once Delegate Assembly attendees have completed their business, the Agenda is set and ready to be used by TASB and its members to advocate on behalf of public schools and Texas schoolchildren.

With Delegate Assembly being such an integral part of TASB’s long history of serving school boards and Texas public education, there’s an ongoing commitment by the TASB Board to make sure this pivotal event continues to serve the needs of members and foster participation.

“We always want to make sure the experience is the best one possible and encourage more school boards to take part,” said Rolinda Schmidt, Kerrville ISD trustee and TASB Board president-elect. Schmidt has been leading a special committee looking at ways to strengthen Delegate Assembly as TASB looks to the next 75 years.

“Delegate Assembly truly empowers TASB members to have a voice in creating positive changes in Texas public education. We want to ensure it continues to serve our Association and advances the needs of our students for generations to come,” Schmidt said.

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Beth Griesmer
Senior Communications Specialist

Beth Griesmer is a senior communications specialist for TASB.

Laura Tolley
Managing Editor

Laura Tolley is the managing editor of Texas Lone Star.