Top Five Board Policies that might be out of date

“Fine Tuning” Episode 7 (Now with Practice Pointers!)
John Ptacin, Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC

One of the School Board’s most important duties is to adopt policies for the School District. Your Board Policies set expectations for superintendents, teachers, students, parents, and your communities. 

A good set of Board Policies explain almost every facet of District life. They announce the Board’s vision, establish which processes belong to whom, and how you adjudicate important issues of the day.  

As with any set of rules, policies can become outdated if not reviewed at reasonable intervals. School Boards should schedule a review of at least one section of the policies annually to ensure they reflect your Board’s vision for the District. 

In our seventh installment of “Fine Tuning,” we’re going to look at some specific policies that may no longer reflect the District’s expectations and needs. Below is a list of common Board Policies we review for our clients.   

1. Does your Board Policy provide too much access to the Meeting Agenda?

Some School Boards allow the public to place items on meeting agendas. And in some Districts, a member of the public can place an item on the agenda without much oversight from the superintendent or the board. No Federal or state statute requires this practice. 

If you have ever felt there are too many agenda items at your meetings, this may be the culprit. Consider amending the policy so the public does not have the right to set the Board’s agenda. And delegate certain issues to subgroups of your board or community advisory committees. 

Also, consider adopting policies that require the public to address their concerns at the school level or superintendent level first. This will do two things: (1) provide sufficient information to the Board if the community member and the administration cannot resolve concerns below; and (2) narrow the focus of the community member’s concerns before it comes to the Board. 

The School Board can also modify its policies. For instance, the Board could amend its policies to state that the Board or Superintendent may review whether an agenda item offered by the public is appropriate in the first instance.   

2. Do your policies mandate in-person meetings when phone calls and online meetings might suffice? 

Most Board meetings should be held in person whenever possible. But what about other important meetings of your board and other officials? Your policies can allow for more participation via video conference or telephone. 

3. Does your board policy appropriately address school facilities usage?

School Boards recognize that school facilities belong to the citizens of the community and that community use fosters understanding and support for school programs. In furtherance of these goals, School Boards make facilities and grounds available to citizens and community groups for lawful gatherings and assemblies. 

However, once a School Board opens its facilities to public use, you must be careful about restricting use of the facilities. Any restrictions to public use of facilities must be viewpoint neutral and reasonable. Your board policies must set forth legally justifiable reasons to restrict facility use.   

Check your Board policies to ensure the Superintendent or their designee have sufficient guidance on when they can reject or modify requests for facilities usage. The policy should not provide too much discretion to your superintendent and should provide guidance to ensure compliance with the First Amendment. 

4. Does your board policy clarify that not all public records searches are free to the public? 

School Board policies often give the impression that a School District will produce records for free, no matter the cost to the District.

Under Alaska’s public record laws, the District can charge the public records requestor administrative time associated with collecting public records. This is especially true if the records are stored in electronic databases.  

With any change to Board Policies related to public records, the goal is not to dissuade the public from obtaining public data. Rather, consider notifying the public that charging administrative costs is considered the rule and not the exception.  

5. Do Administrative Regulations match updated board policies?

Administrative regulations are adopted by your superintendents to effectuate a board policy. 

Administrative regulations should be consistent with your stated policies. 

Over time, School Board policies and administrative regulations tend to misalign. To address this misalignment, consider mandating that your superintendents review administrative regulations regularly, especially after your board adopts a new policy.   

Practice Pointers

These five areas do not represent all the policies that may be giving your Districts issues at the moment. 

When reviewing your board policies, consider the following:

  1. Does this Board Policy accurately reflect the goals and expectations of the School Board?
  2. If the Board adopts a different policy, will it conflict with existing administrative regulations?   
  3. Does a current Board Policy provide too much or too little discretion to certain individuals?
  4. Can the Board Policy better state the vision of the Board as a whole?   
  5. Does the Board Policy accurately reflect the current practices and procedures of the District? 

More from Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC: