Ten Tips for New Board Members

Timi Tullis, Associate Executive Director

This summer I started a great project, reading through every Commentary since AASB began publishing the newsletter in 1972.  What I have learned is fascinating! An ah-ha  for me is that some things never change. Some of the same issues that have come  up each year are the exact same issues we face today, including adequate funding.  

The following is from an article on what every new member should know. As elections are right around the corner, now is a great time to remember these tips and share them with newly elected members, as well as remind our veteran members about these tips.. Feel free to read them out loud at the meeting when you swear in new members or go over them at a retreat or work session.  

1. Go slow in the beginning. Especially if you have come on the board to “reform” it, or if you were hoping to ‘get rid of the principal.’ Chances are you will feel different about many things after six months on the board and once you understand your role a bit more.  

2. Remember, the only authority you have is when when you are in an officially posted school board meeting with your fellow board members. You have no legal authority to act alone unless the board as a whole specifically delegates a task to you.

3. Do not let differences of opinion degenerate into personality conflicts. Nothing is more devastating to good board procedures than to have one member vote for a measure simply because another member votes against the motion.

4. Listen with open minds and limit your talking. You may gain wisdom by not saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment. One thing Is certain: you are not learning when you are talking, you are only hearing your own Ideas.

5. If possible, keep out of teacher/personnel problems. The board has hired a superintendent and staff to take on the personnel responsibility. This is NOT the board role.  

6. Show public support for the superintendent and staff. Except in unusual circumstances, the superintendent has a right to expect no public badmouthing from their board or board members. To undermine the superintendent is unethical. Use 1:1 meetings with the superintendent and the official legally posted board meetings to iron out differences of opinion.

7. Make an Effort to stay Informed. School business is always important business. Being informed requires time and effort. You need to build time in your schedule to do your board work, if you want to do it well. Ask for work sessions as you feel the need. Visit schools but follow the sites’ visitation procedures.  

8. Welcome people who reach out about school problems and listen carefully. Then, refer them to the appropriate person according to board policy. If the problem is controversial, remember that you are hearing only one side of the story. Do not commit yourself to a course of action that you may regret later. The board as a whole may not support your view, and you could find yourself in an embarrassing position of having committed yourself to a stand that the board rejects.

9. When a person or persons with a special interest approaches you, explain that you will listen to all the facts before you act. A vocal minority can force a school board to act before all the facts are known and evaluated. If you are being pressed, tell them that you and the Board need more time to make a fair decision. Often boards find that preliminary discussion, followed by taking action at the next meeting clears their thinking and simplifies what seems complicated.

10. Accept that your job on the board is one of responsible leadership in your community. You will be expected to attend and participate in many public meetings on school affairs. This is more than an opportunity, it is an obligation to interpret school affairs to an interested public. You can clear away doubts, misconceptions, and misunderstandings. You can do more than merely inform the public; you can help form public opinion and create active, intelligent support for education In your communities.