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Role of a School Board Member

Even for those new board members who have studied the role of the board and attended numerous board meetings before they ran for election, the reality of school board service can be very different from what they imagined. Like any challenging leadership position in our world today, board service is a learning experience, one that will stretch and grow your leadership skills.

Schools exist to provide appropriate educational opportunities for our children. With this in mind it is vital to maintain children first in the decision making and thinking processes of school board members. This can be difficult as constituents ask for responses and decisions on topics that vary greatly but impact what is often the largest business in a community in New Hampshire, the schools.

A fundamental rule, often not understood by new board members and sometimes not followed by experienced board members, is that they have NO AUTHORITY beyond that exercised at the board table. When the meeting is called to order each member is empowered with the right to vote on each issue. When the meeting is adjourned, that power is gone. Only a majority of the board has the ability to set policy, hire and fire staff, negotiate contracts or make requests of the superintendent. The only employee of the board is the superintendent and he or she is the only school district employee the board may make requests of. The board may empower, with a vote, the chair or subcommittee to take action outside of the board meeting but such power is only given by the full board. In most matters school boards are legislative bodies. The exception to this rule is when a board serves as a judicial body conducting staff or student hearings.

School Board meetings are meetings of the board in public. School Board meetings are not meetings of the public with the board. Your constituents have the right to see board action in public but are not entitled to interrupt the proceedings of the board. Citizens do not have a 'right" to speak at a board meeting. Most boards do allow a reasonable limited amount of time for citizen input at the beginning or end of a meeting. For hot topics a separate public input session for the board to listen to community members opinions is not only appropriate, but to be encouraged.

The board and superintendent form the school district leadership team. The effective functioning of this team requires trust. It does NOT mean everyone agrees on the issues. In fact, a well functioning team with a high level trust will have vigorous, loud, impassioned discussions over those issues they care greatly about. Trust also means that board decisions will be supported by all board members. To do otherwise reduces team effectiveness and loses respect for the board from the staff and community.

The leadership team should be focused on end results. The board should ask questions of What?, Why?, How Much? and How Well? Board action should be focused on Mission, Goals, Policies, Standards, Advocacy, and Communication. The method the board uses to give direction is that of the vote, at a properly convened meeting of the board as a whole.

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School Board Service

Role of a
School Board Member