School Board Elections & Keeping Track of Board Policy

Lon Garrison, AASB Director of Membership Services

In a two-part presentation, Lon Garrison explained the mechanics of school board elections and process of filling a vacancy, and the purposes of board policy.

PART 1 – School Board Elections

Using the AASB Policy Online website as a guide, he walked through the qualifications for school board candidacy, which include:

  • US citizen
  • 18 years of age or older
  • registered voter
  • resident of a district for 30 days
  • no felony convictions or a court finding of incompetency

Advisory board members are appointed by the board, not elected, so they do not need to meet the same requirements.

Board members are elected for three year terms, and board seats are staggered to become available on a rotating basis. If elected to the board, a candidate who is a district employee must resign their position. Concurrently, board members must resign from the board if they seek district employment

Before assuming the duties of their office, newly elected board members must take and subscribe to the following oath from Alaska State Statutes: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as a school board member to the best of my ability.” Within seven days, or as soon as possible after an election is certified, the board must organize and choose officers.

The board may declare a board seat vacant if the person elected failed to qualify for the school board, refuses to take oath of office, resigns, is convicted of a felony, or no longer resides within the boundaries of the area they were elected to represent. 

Three consecutive unexcused absences from regular board meetings are sufficient cause for the board to declare a vacancy. Unexcused absences can be difficult to determine, unless there is no communication from a board member that they will not be attending a meeting. There can be circumstances when a board member is unable to communicate, but in general there is no excuse for missing meetings.

Once the board accepts a resignation, they have 30 days to recruit/appoint a candidate. This process requires the board to:

  • advertise in local media
  • solicit applications or nominations of legally qualified citizens interested in serving
  • provide candidates with information
  • interview candidates at a public meeting
  • select the appointee by majority vote at a public meeting (as per the open meetings act)

Legal counsel can provide guidance on what board members can say publicly about why a candidate was accepted or rejected.

During the discussion period that followed, attendees asked questions about the process of filling a board vacancy, the legal ramifications, and doing background checks on school board candidates (not required, but a felony conviction would eliminate a candidate).

PART 2 – Keeping Track of Policy

The second part of his presentation focused on the purpose of policy, the process by which it is developed, how AASB can support district policy making, and helping Executive Administrative Assistants understand their roles in relation to policy.

The primary purpose of policy, Garrison said, is to govern the district and provide direction for the superintendent. Policies tell what is needed and why the need is important.

Administrative Regulations are detailed instructions related to the policy and how it is to be implemented. They tell How to act, who should be involved, where and when it should occur.

Policies provide the Board and administration with guidance for governance, comply with and implement laws and regulations, create and define rights, define responsibilities, ensure accountability, provide a framework for the day-to-day operation of the district, and protect the district in case of a legal challenge. They also serve to keep decision-making “situation-based,” not “person-based.”

Garrison emphasized the need to keep the community, parents, employees and students informed of board policies, and suggested they be posted in an easy-to-find location on the home page of the district’s website.

Policies are organized by the following numbered topic groupings:

  • 0000 Philosophy-Goals-Objectives and Comprehensive Plans
  • 1000 Community
  • 2000 Administration
  • 3000 Business and Non-instructional Operations
  • 4000 Personnel
  • 5000 Students
  • 6000 Instruction
  • 7000 New Construction
  • 8000 Advisory School Boards
  • 9000 Bylaws of the Board

There are specific processes for the development, review, and adoption of policies that govern the district that include the following steps:

  1. Identify the need
  2. Analysis – gather facts, identify options (may delegate to committee)
  3. Board study, discuss, identify basic elements (may delegate to committee)
  4. Draft new policy or amend existing policy
  5. Board reviews, takes public input
  6. Legal review
  7. Board approves via 2-reading process 
  8. Review and amend corresponding Administrative Regulations
  9. Disseminate and implement

Board Bylaw 9311 specifically addresses the review process, and allows the superintendent to provide input to the board. Polices are addressed at public meetings and most often have two readings. The public is encouraged to comment. Some board conduct the review process on their own, which can be slow and an impediment to completing the review. AASB recommends using a committee to conduct policy review. It can include 1-2 board members, stakeholders and experts that can make recommendations to the board.

Administrative Regulation 9311 states that “Sections of the policy manual shall be reviewed on the following continuous rotating schedule:

  • Year 1 -Chapters 0 through 3
  • Year 2 -Chapters 4 through 5
  • Year 3 -Chapters 6 through 7
  • Year 4 -Chapters 8 through 9”

AASB is available as a resource to help boards be as compliant and up-to-date with their policies as possible, and has a variety of resources to assist with this process. 49 Alaska districts currently use AASB reference policies, and 35 districts subscribe to AASB’s Policy Online service. Also available are a policy audit service available, access to a national policy database, and assistance with reviewing and refreshing existing district policy manuals.

For those interested in moving beyond inefficient “hard copy” policy manuals, Garrison suggested considering a subscription to AASB’s Policy Online service. Policies and Administrative Resulations are searchable, downloadable, hyperlinked, and available for instant online access by boards, staff, and the public.

His presentation concluded with a brief review of new Policy Online features, including access to the AASB model policy manual, a Sample tab that enables comparison of model policies with a district’s current policies, and Multi-district search that allows a user to search all other school districts on a specific policy topic.

Lon Garrison Slides