The Policy Manual: Your District’s Superpower!
Tiffany Jackson, Director of Membership Services
Every day the Association of Alaska School Boards receives phone calls from school board members, superintendents, executive admins, and even the public asking questions about school board operations. Usually, the first thing we do when identifying if we can help answer the question is say, “Let’s pull up the district’s policies.” The vast majority of questions we receive can indeed be answered by referring to the district’s policy manual. This is why it’s so critical for your district’s policy manual to be easily accessible to everyone, including the public.
“Tiffany,” you may be saying, “our policy manual is already on our website.” AWESOME! My next question for you is, how easy is it to find on your website? Do you have a bright button on your homepage that takes you directly to your policy manual? Or, do you have to know that school district policies are a function of the school board, and therefore you have to navigate to the school board section of the website first to locate your policies? I work with districts all over the state, pulling up many of your policy manuals daily, and I can tell you, some of you have policy manuals that aren’t very easy to find. If a policy expert has difficulty finding your policy manual, what chances will a community member with limited policy knowledge know where to find them?
Now that you’ve got your policies easily findable on your district’s homepage, you may be wondering what your next step as a school board member may be when it comes to policies. AASB recommends you regularly review all of your policies to ensure they’re updated to meet changing conditions and possibly changing legal requirements. Many districts have AR (Administrative Regulation) 9311 Board Policies which lays out a schedule for the board to review ALL policies over the course of 4 years.
Now you might be thinking, “Wow, that sounds like a lot; we could be spending all of the board’s time together just reviewing policy.” Yes, it is a lot, but the school board has declared policy to be its most important function. You also have other business to conduct to help run the district (like the Superintendent evaluation, Board Self Evaluation, and approval of contracts, all of which, by the way, are detailed IN BOARD POLICY!). Because of the sheer volume of work to be done in regularly reviewing all board policies, AASB recommends boards consider having a policy committee to take on this work.
How can AASB help your district with undertaking all this policy work? There are a number of ways:
- Policy Online: AASB offers complete online publication and support for school district policy manuals. The Policy Online manual is easily accessible and can be linked to the district’s website for easy access by the public, staff, administration, and the Board. Once published, the district’s policy online manual is easily searchable, contains a sequential revision history, and allows anyone to export and download PDF files of each policy, administrative regulation, or exhibit. The District office for subscribed districts will have administrative access to additional features like multiple district searches of policies for all other districts using the AASB Policy Online Service, including access to AASB’s model policy manual. In addition, Policy Online subscribers can easily keep their policy manual up to date with recent policy amendments, or new policy additions, as subscribers also receive AASB’s annual policy updates.
- Policy Audits: For Districts that aren’t sure what the state of their policy manual is, AASB offers a Policy Audit service. During a policy audit, AASB staff will compare the school district’s current policy manual to the AASB model policies and provide a report to the school district on which district policies are current, out of date, or even missing. This audit report gives the Superintendent and the School Board a starting point to address policies in need of revision within the district.
- Policy Updates: Traditionally provided once a year, Policy Update subscribers receive updates reflecting new and changing laws and educational trends to supplement the AASB Policy Reference Manual. AASB provides legally vetted and expertly reviewed policy updates for Boards to consider and adopt. This service prevents each district from having to legally vet each of their policies on their own, saving Districts thousands of dollars every year. In addition, AASB strives to stay abreast of the latest trends in educational policy through its network of other state association policy experts. This service is automatically included for Policy Online subscribers. AASB is thrilled to announce that due to the incredible importance of policy work, we will be migrating from a once-a-year policy update to a three-times-a-year policy update schedule where suggested policy updates are provided to subscribers every four months!
All this is to say, take some time, review your policy manual, become familiar with it and how to search it. It WILL help you be a better board member. Afterward, if you have more questions about policy, please call AASB. We stand ready to assist districts with their policy needs.