Education & Government
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Diana Baker Freeman
Sr. Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Iniatives

How to run a successful board of education meeting

January 11, 2024
0 min read
How to run a successful board of education meeting

The U.S. Supreme Court once termed the American school board “a most vital civic institution for the preservation of a democratic system of government.” Flashpoints of the democratic process itself, school board meetings can be loud, messy and slow.

Is it possible to bring order to these meetings while keeping them representative and participatory? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

However, running a smooth, purposeful school board meeting is an acquired skill. Follow these tips (adapted from the Georgia School Board Association) to harness the energy and ideas in your boardroom and get business done.

Before the school board meeting

Two principles steer the ship at all phases of the meeting preparation, execution and follow-up.

  1. The first: There shall be no surprises.
  2. The second: Chaotic discussions cannot waylay the business of the meeting.

These rules require considerable planning ahead of the meeting: posting ground rules and making the agenda available.

Your board management solution can help facilitate both the agenda preparation, sharing of board packets and other supporting information so that your board members have plenty of time to prepare for the next meeting.

Determine the post procedural policies

Be sure that the ground rules of the meeting are known to all, not only to the chairperson. Remember that some of the public participants are first-time visitors, and some may have never participated in a professional meeting before. They will not necessarily assume many customs that seem obvious to you.

You will not need to repeat the work of clarifying your procedural policies, but devote a day to it now if you have never had explicit ground rules. You will need to confirm that these rules are posted widely prior to each meeting.

These rules set the groundwork for more or less directed, focused deliberations in the course of the meeting. Some states require particular published rules to be followed – e.g., the most recent edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. If your state has such a requirement, follow it.

If it doesn’t, you are well advised to start with any version of Robert’s Rules of Order and make only the adjustments that you deem necessary. (See www.robertsrules.com for ordering information.) Many states do allow some tweaking of set rules.

Certain fine points of parliamentary procedure determine how permissive or restrictive your meeting will be. Again, your state may have guidelines that take these decisions out of your hands; you should check on those.

For example, merely informational meetings could have more lax rules than the more typical assembly charged with making decisions, solving problems, planning programs and evaluating existing initiatives. Assuming your meetings are not merely informational, we highly recommend stronger limits to keep business on track in a setting that is notoriously prone to outbursts. Post the rules publicly, both before and after the meeting.

Items to include in parliamentary procedure for focused school board meetings

  • Discussion of conflicts cannot continue after a majority vote has settled the matter.
  • Input on school board matters by all concerned members of the public shall be limited to 30 minutes.
  • Any one board member may address any one motion item no more than two times.
  • “New Business” items will be limited to those posted on the agenda. Anyone can submit agenda items to the Chair up to five days before each meeting. Any issues raised during the meeting will be discussed at the following meeting. (Some state laws prohibit this rule.)
  • Members of the public must sign up in advance if they wish to speak, stating what they’ll speak on.
  • The meeting will not include complaints about school personnel; such discussion should be taken privately to local administrators.
  • Only board members may make or amend a motion; members of the public may not do so.
  • The Superintendent also may not make or amend a motion.

Once you have determined the exact rules to govern your meetings, put them on your website and have them posted visibly at the meeting. While you need not mention it as a policy, we do not recommend subjecting the agenda itself to a vote of approval; it sends the signal that limits and structure are negotiable.

Set the agenda and post it publicly

This seemingly simple task actually involves several steps:

Up to five days before the meeting

The chair should invite submission of agenda items and collect them.

Four days before the meeting

While many school boards also have the chair create the agenda, the state of Georgia has profited from holding a work session of the Superintendent and the board chair (or vice chair) to promote communication and instill confidence.

Whoever composes the agenda must decide who is responsible for each item. Do not leave this to chance! Experienced chairs encourage the most broad-based participation possible.

Committee reports and ad hoc project updates should be assigned to different people; this small act increases attendance, participation and ownership. Contact presenters personally, apart from publicly distributing the agenda, to ensure that they know they are expected to contribute something specific.

Three days before the meeting

Post the agenda publicly. Traditionally, posting the agenda and all supporting documents is the job of the Superintendent.

Facilitate contact before the meeting

Board members should know how to communicate with the Superintendent prior to the meeting to clarify items on the agenda. It is imperative that such contact not violate sunshine laws by brokering private deals or shoring up votes.

At the school board meeting

Most meetings begin with a review of the last meeting's minutes and committee reports. Voting only once on all of these matters saves time, with the voting compressed into what is called a “consent agenda.” The chair must keep the discussion and voting on schedule. The agenda will post an end time for the meeting; it might also give an end time for each agenda item.

A chair who enforces parliamentary procedure will keep conversation on track so that needed votes are taken. You have already decided, for example, that any one person may speak only twice (or, say, for only five minutes) on a given matter. That creates an impersonal way to rein in someone who would like to talk more.

A good chair has an instinct for asking that comments be converted into motions. The chair should then restate each motion, clearing up any vague wording. The person who made the motion should speak first in the discussion. Some chairs alternate pro and con comments.

The chair is also free to call directly on board members who may have special knowledge on the matter but are not as talkative. Discussion ceases when a board member “calls the question,” at which point a vote is taken.

In closing the meeting, governance consultant Bruce Lesley recommends that the chair summarize discussions and actions taken. The closing should also be positive, with thanks extended to volunteers for their work. The format for any communications after the meetings (for example, via email) can be specified. Comments could be directed to a single public online platform.

After the school board meeting

The U.S. Department of Education — as well as most school districts — requires official minutes to be posted publicly within a specified time frame. Many school boards now livestream public meetings in addition to posting video or sound recordings of meetings.

The press may contact board members or members of the public who spoke in the meeting about votes that were taken or about discussions that remain to be voted on at the next meeting. Board members must remember that when they speak to the press, they are not representing the board as a whole.

If you follow all of these steps, you will run outstanding school board meetings that invite needed input without getting sidetracked in emotional, or even hostile, verbal conflicts. This prevents meetings from erupting into shouting matches that undermine public confidence (without imposing tyranny).

With good governance, even school boards — those heated microcosms of democracy in action — can get the job done.

Using board management software like Diligent Community can support boards and deliver efficiency in preparation as well as community transparency. With customizable workflows, document libraries and a public transparency website, meeting management becomes effortless. Contact us today to find out how we can support your public education board with meetings and governance.


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