As part of its continued focus to provide resources to school board presidents, the New Jersey School Boards Association will be answering questions through its monthly Board President’s Corner column. Our next question is below. Submit your question and you may see it featured next time.

Question: How should the board president handle it when a board member proposes a motion out of nowhere and surprises the entire board and the superintendent?

If you’ve served on a local board of education for any length of time – and most board presidents have – you know that this is not as uncommon as you might expect.

For boards of education that operate under a committee system, there is an easy way to respond to such a scenario, and it is this: Tell the board member that you appreciate the motion and that it will be referred to the appropriate committee.

A motion about outside groups asking to use your facilities would be sent to the Facilities Committee, and likewise, a motion pertaining to the curriculum would be sent to the Curriculum Committee. Once the committee has had a chance to review the motion, it can be brought to the full board to act on.

Even if you operate as a board of the whole, you should never act on a motion that has not been placed on the agenda. Every board member should have a chance to research the issue at hand.

When a board member makes a motion that no one is expecting, things can quickly get out of hand. For instance, a board member may make a motion for students who are schooled at home to be allowed to participate in school sports – and that motion may be seconded.

If the board president or board attorney does not slow things down, the members of the board won’t have time to consider all the issues such a motion raises, such as questions revolving around insurance and transportation. Board members with good intentions may make a decision they regret and with consequences that they do not fully understand if they don’t give everyone time to research the issue.

Another example may be a board member who makes an unexpected motion to change the time school starts. Even a 15-minute adjustment could have massive implications for transportation, staffing and for parents. As board president, you know this, but it can be easy to forget best practices when you have a passionate board member with members of the public urging them on.

The bottom line is you never want to make a rash decision amid a public outcry or crisis, and you must always place items on the agenda beforehand, so that the public knows what you’ll be acting on and so that everyone can research the issue and make a smart decision.