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: What are the best practices for planning a meeting agenda? 

A local board of education will typically have a bylaw that addresses how to develop an agenda, so it is important to start there.

There are best practices a board should follow in terms of developing and approving an agenda, which must be made available to the public 48 hours before a board meeting. Most districts note in their bylaws who should get a copy of the agenda, such as the teachers association, members of the town council, etc. – as well as the legal requirements of where the notice should be posted and/or published.

Although it is the board’s agenda, it is typically the district’s superintendent and business administrator who draft the agenda. They are the ones who know what needs to be proposed and approved in a timely fashion so that the district can continue to function efficiently.

However, it is imperative that they share the agenda with the board president before making it available to public, so the president can suggest items to add to the agenda, items to take off, or express areas of concern.

Therefore, the draft of the agenda should be shared with the board president as early as possible – preferably at least three days before a meeting is held and sooner if feasible.

Often, the board president may be able to identify questions that they have or that they know fellow board members might have about items on the agenda. It can help the meeting run more smoothly if the superintendent and business administrator know these questions in advance, so they can research the answers. If they can’t get information to those questions in a timely fashion, they may want to consider adjusting the agenda, so they can address the issue when they have more complete information.

The board president should also remember that if the board works under a committee system, most of the items on the agenda will be the result of their work. As board president, you want to verify that the committee’s notes reflect that an item was about to be presented to the board.

While the superintendent and business administrator should always put essential business on the agenda, giving it to the board president in advance allows them to have a say on what other items might be considered.

For instance, if a board president has heard from community members who want the district to share its buildings during off hours for use by community groups, they may suggest such a talking point be placed on the agenda. The board president also regularly communicates with their fellow board members and may know items that they would like to see on the agenda, as well.

Moreover, no board member wants to see their superintendent or business administrator embarrassed, and looking at the agenda in advance can serve as an opportunity for the board president to let senior school staff know what they are hearing throughout the community, including any items of concern. It can also serve as an impetus to keep the lines of communication open on a host of other items that may be placed on the agenda in the future.

If the board president has heard that the next meeting will be well attended because of a hot-button issue, they should inform the superintendent and business administrator, so they can plan accordingly. In such a scenario, the district may want to consider moving the normal location of the meeting to accommodate a larger pool of citizens.

Simply letting the superintendent, business administrator and fellow board members know that a larger turnout is expected can be productive, as there is a tendency to have a “fight or flight” response if you pull into the parking lot and see 100 cars, when normally there is only a handful. You don’t want to have either reaction: You want to be calm, composed and prepared to discuss the issues you came to address.

The board president can also give the superintendent and business administrator input on the order of items on the agenda. For instance, if they anticipate a large crowd will be at the meeting because of a particular item, it may be best to consider that item sooner rather than later, as citizens may get impatient and riled up if they are forced to wait.  The superintendent may even call to arrange a police presence at the meeting or arrange for security if the situation warrants.

When something goes wrong in developing an agenda, one of the most common complaints is that the superintendent sent it to the public at the same time as the board president, which eliminates the chance to adjust the agenda based on the board president’s input. By working together, the superintendent, business administrator and board president can eliminate surprises, be more prepared and run the meeting more efficiently. The board president should be given 24 hours to share any input about the agenda, so adjustments can be made if needed.

All board members should also have a clear understanding as to how to get an item added to the agenda. This is important for every board to communicate with its members. As soon as a new member joins the board, they should be told about this process, so that everyone feels they are being given the proper attention as elected officials serving as a voice for their constituents.