Recent research shows nearly three-fourths of current school board members don't plan to run for reelection after their term, compared to 70% who planned to run back in 2016. Reasons cited for their decision included a lack of support and training.
Anyone who serves on or works closely with a school board understands the demands that are placed on these elected officials. For many, it is a first public office, and new trustees face significant issues based on a sharp learning curve:
Lack of preparation to make decisions on complex local education issues
Conflicts that have taken a fresh hold in our current climate, including today’s debates over books and LBGTQ rights and expression, that spill over into board meetings and make governance more complex
Staying on top of new rules, guidelines and legislation for their state
An Ed Post op-ed summed it up this way: “District school boards can be one of the largest employers, transportation companies, purchasers and real estate owners in a community, but board members often lack the knowledge and skills to expertly govern an institution this size. Despite playing such an outsized role in people’s lives, school boards operate with fewer resources than any other elected position and receive almost no training or support once elected.”
New trustees and those who support them can struggle to find the right resources, but, like with many other things, we can turn to technology to provide solutions.
6 Roles Technology Can Play in Training School Board Members
As older board members retire or lose their seats, younger generations step in who have an increasing level of comfort with using devices, apps and other digital tools to meet their needs. A growing population is getting more adept at navigating cross-platform services, from television and laptop to tablet to phone.
And while board members can get mixed messages about training — this Public School Review piece talks about Georgia’s training requirements as well as lax enforcement — shirking either required or recommended training can cause legal and other problems. While lawsuits are a major risk, in Oklahoma in 2022, four board members were arrested for open meetings violations.
It is in both trustees’ and the communities’ best interests to find technology that helps support the board’s training needs. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.
1. Onboarding New Members
Beginning with day one of board service, trustees need to fully understand the scope and limitations of their role. As noted above, management versus oversight of management, in particular, is a concept that is critical for new board members to understand immediately. Consider this list of factors a board member should understand immediately about the nature of the role. (Read further thoughts on management versus oversight of management and the role of technology on our blog.)
2. Meeting Training Requirements
State guidelines vary on required training for school board members, but often include lessons on ethics, open meetings and other legal factors. For example, Washington State requires both open government and training on educational equity (“cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion training”). In New Jersey, board members must complete training each of the first three years of their service, and the first year of any reelection or reappointment term.
For more insight on this, check out our Best Practices for School Board Member Training.
3. Cyber Risk Vigilance
School districts are a growing target for bad actors drawn to potential weaknesses. Lack of investment in IT leaves schools without the dedicated resources to fight viruses, hackers, phishing and especially ransomware. Ensuring new trustees both understand the threat and are individually doing their part (not using personal email for board business, for example) is an urgent need.
4. Rule and legislation changes
A quick scan of headlines shows changing rules and laws governing school board service. California has a new law requiring biannual ethics training. New Mexico is considering a bill to require all board members to report campaign contributions; the bill also has training requirements. In Pennsylvania, a state representative is discussing legislation to allow trustees to be compensated for service and training.
Staying on top of new rules and guidance is critical, but board members may also want an opportunity to be a part of the discussion as these changes are being considered.
5. Student success
We’ve reported before on studies that effective boards who take advantage of development opportunities are positively correlated with lower dropout rates, a higher percentage of students matriculating to college and higher test performance than districts with less effectively governed boards.
Download our Student Success Kit to access valuable resources on improving student success, with step-by-step plans and tips to streamline the processes involved!
6. Building community and creating a positive board culture
Transparency and civility are the linchpins of a healthy board in challenging times. Board members who can communicate clearly with each other and efficiently and transparently with the community are going to be the most effective in — and thus the most satisfied with — their roles. Read more on the importance of communication in building and maintaining a positive board culture.
The Right Tools for Support and Training for School Board Members
Boards can use their portals to organize information around training requirements and materials and ensure each trustee has access to the best resources for support. Portals such as Diligent Community serve as a single source of truth and reckoning for boards and a gateway to development.
Board development is key to successful board service, so it’s no wonder that support and training are mentioned among reasons why school board members would choose not to pursue office again. Feeling confident navigating the complexities of service while avoiding the pitfalls of unhealthy board dynamics and legal requirements is critical.
Using technology can help board training be more efficient and effective. Curious to learn more?
Explore how a modern digital solution to support board governance and training starts with a buying process designed to deliver optimal results.