5 Common Questions New School Board Members Ask
When you’re a newly elected school trustee, there’s a lot to learn. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
One of the first things you’ll realize when you join the school board is that there’s a lot to learn. New board members usually start their service with a lot of questions. We’ll address some of the frequently asked questions here.
1. What Is My Role in [INSERT SITUATION] as a Board Member?
“Your character hasn't changed, your personality hasn't changed, your passion hasn't changed. You're the same person the night before, but after the election, you’re a representative of and advocate for your district now,” said TASB Board Development Consultant Orin Moore. “But how that looks is different in different situations.”
Moore suggests reviewing the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) Framework for School Board Development as a good place to start in understanding your role on the board. It outlines what an effective board does in its governing capacity. You can find the Framework in your district’s policy manual in BBD(EXHIBIT).
The tasks listed in the Framework help to reinforce the idea that school boards are there to oversee the management of the district, not to manage the district. Your role in most situations can be understood through the tasks and areas of the framework they fall under.
Your board’s tasks fall under and support five basic areas:
- Vision and Goals: The board ensures creation of a shared vision and locally developed, measurable goals that improve student outcomes and provide support for opportunities and experiences.
- Systems and Processes: The board ensures systems and processes are in place to accomplish the vision and goals.
- Progress and Accountability: The board sets clear goals, provides resources and support, evaluates goal attainment, and engages in ongoing objective feedback on progress and commitments.
- Advocacy and Engagement: The board promotes the vision and engages the community in developing and fulfilling the vision. The board advocates on behalf of Texas public schoolchildren.
- Synergy and Teamwork: The board’s duties are distinct, and the board works effectively as a collaborative unit and as a team with the superintendent to lead the district in fulfilling the vision and goals.
When you encounter a situation where your role is unclear, talk with your superintendent and board president. They will be an invaluable resource as you’ll learn about your role.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the district’s policy manual, especially the policies that outline the board’s role and how things are handled locally.
“Second to the Texas Education Code, your district’s policy manual is probably your most valuable resource,” said Moore. “It takes all those big, overarching laws and requirements and makes them uniquely yours with district policy.”
You can also access a variety of resources from TASB to help you understand your role. TASB is also here to help you understand and grow in your role as a board member.
2. How Much Time Can I Expect To Dedicate to My Work on the Board?
As with any new job, it takes time to learn the ropes. You’ll need to dedicate yourself to learning about your new responsibilities and the ins and outs of the issues your district faces. This probably means more work at the front end.
Two of the best ways to prepare are:
- Talking to experienced board members
- Attending training designed for new school board members
“Building a network of peers who have been through these experiences or are going through them now is invaluable,” said Moore.
Experienced school board members can mentor you and help you keep your focus on learning the most important things at the appropriate time.
“Just be prepared to commit that time if you want to be an effective board member,” said Longview ISD Board Member and TASB President Ted Beard. “You’re going to be called to do various things just because you’re on the school board.”
Beyond just staying informed on the issues and attending board meetings, some of the activities you’ll be expected to do are:
- Participate on committees
- Attend a variety of school functions
- Pursue professional development
These activities require a significant amount of time, but it’s time well spent when you consider that you’re working for the children in your community.
3. What’s the Best Way To Prepare for Board Meetings?
The first thing you need to do is to find out who prepares the agendas for your board meetings. Your board operating procedures should detail this information, along with how to get an item included on the agenda and your district’s deadline for submitting items, too.
Agendas must be posted at least 72 hours before a meeting begins, so ask when you can expect to get agenda materials from your superintendent and what to do if you need more information. Most boards receive a copy of the agenda and background information a few days before the meeting. This gives you time to study the issues.
It’s also a good idea to ask your board president what rules of order are used at your meetings. Most Texas school boards have adopted Robert’s Rules of Order as their authority on meeting rules, but these only apply where laws and local policy or procedure leave off.
Make sure you understand the basics of the Texas Open Meetings Act, including how closed sessions work. The TASB School Law eSource has a variety of helpful documents for understanding aspects of your board meeting duties.
“You may have heard about closed sessions or executive sessions,” said Moore. “It's a feature or dimension of your open meetings act that allows you to discuss things in private. There are different topics that must be, by law, discussed in a closed session or executive session.”
Any actions that the board or trustees take that violate the Open Meetings Act are subject to being voided, and some violations can even lead to criminal misdemeanor prosecutions.
4. What Kind of Training Do I Need as a School Board Member?
School board members are probably the best trained elected officials in the state. As a new school board member, you’re required to receive a local orientation within 60 days of taking office and a wide variety of training after that. This orientation must be at least three hours in length, and it must address:
- Local district practices in curriculum and instruction
- Business and finance operations
- District operations
- Superintendent evaluation
- Board member roles and responsibilities
You should be prepared to learn a lot within the first few months and keep learning throughout your time on the board. Texas requires trustees to take numerous training courses that cover a wide variety of topics like student achievement, team building, the education code, cybersecurity, and much more.
“Some training can be done online, and some has to be done in person,” said Moore. “Attending a conference as a full board is an amazing way to learn, and to be honest, it's a fun way to learn.”
Trustees must take several courses each year for as long as they serve on their school board.
5. How Will I Know I’m Successful as a Board Member?
Ask any veteran board member, and they’ll tell you. Watching the students in your district at a band concert or theater performance, at an athletic event or receiving some sort of recognition, and, of course, walking the stage at graduation is immensely satisfying. Student achievement is, in many ways, the ultimate measure of your district’s success.
“Evaluating your superintendent is the way you evaluate the progress of the district. It's almost like saying, ‘Where are we? Where are we going? What have you been doing to get us there?’,” said Moore.
Research has shown that the work school boards do — from asking the right questions about the budget to finding the right superintendent — impacts student achievement. Your service on the board contributes to every child’s success, making all those long meetings and hours poring over the budget worth it.
When you have a question about board service that your board president or superintendent can’t answer, TASB can often help. Call 800-580-8272, extension 2453, or email Board Development Services at email@example.com and let them know you’re a new school board member.