Each board of education in the state has a New Jersey School Boards Association field service representative assigned specifically to the district to provide training and services and answer questions from the board. Periodically, the FSRs, who are all former board members themselves, share with School Leader magazine some of the questions they’ve recently fielded. Below is a sampling of some of the latest queries. 

I am the board president and it was exhausting trying to get my board members to complete the chief school administrator  evaluation. This happens every year! What, if anything, can I do to get board members  to participate, on time? I’m not sure I want to be president next year because of this.

Of all the people who serve your school district or charter school, the individual who has the greatest impact on your students is your chief school administrator. The board of education or the board of trustees is the body that provides your educational leader with the direction and resources to move your school district or charter school forward. The annual evaluation by the board is a critical tool to make that happen. A well done, evidence-based, authentic performance review process establishes clear expectations for the chief school administrator, and ensures that they and your board are on the same page — that all “oars are rowing in the same direction”— and that’s an important component of a healthy board/superintendent relationship. 

Set your board up for success in this endeavor by making sure all of your members understand the evaluation process well in advance of the July 1 statutory deadline. When onboarding new members, have a discussion about what the expectations are for the evaluation process. At reorganization, establish meeting dates for an evaluation pre-conference in March or April, a meeting for the board to discuss and write the formal evaluation document in April or May, and a meeting date for the Summary Conference (when the board presents and discusses the final performance review with the superintendent) in May or June. 

The annual review process also touches your district’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum score. Completion of the process by the statutory deadline of July 1, and formal training in the evaluation process in the first six months of new board members’ terms are requirements under QSAC. 

But more than merely being compliant with legal requirements, it is important to work with your board to create a culture of accountability and collaboration. Establish district goals in partnership with your superintendent well before the start of the new school year, and regularly have conversations and presentations on progress toward district goals at board meetings. 

List your district goals on your public meeting agendas, so your community knows what you are working to achieve throughout the year. Board members should know, understand and discuss the professional standards on which the superintendent evaluation is based. Use the online CSE evaluation tools on NJSBA’s website to gain a solid understanding of the process. Your field service representative can provide professional development for your entire board, so call to set up full-board training early in the year. Keeping the evaluation process in focus throughout the year can and should be a rich and rewarding experience for everyone.  Kathy Helewa

Some of my fellow board members want our board to become an NJSBA Certified Board. What does that entail and why should our board consider getting certified?

In every profession, continuing education helps us to maintain and improve our skills and effectiveness to perform our roles. As a board of education, your role is to effectively provide strong governance of the education system within your community. The policies and decisions governing a school district are not made by individual board members but through the collective board team. 

The board certification process focuses on growing the governance skills and knowledge of the board team while also providing opportunities to improve board dynamics and relationships. The cornerstone of the board certification process is the participation by both the board and superintendent in 16 hours of group training in governance topics of the board’s choosing, facilitated by your field service representative. These 16 hours are above and beyond the time commitments that board members already give to their school districts and truly demonstrate the board’s dedication and commitment to self-improvement and growth. Additionally, all boards expect their district staff to continually maintain, improve and update their professional skills to benefit the students. Boards demonstrate that they value continuing education through the inclusion of professional development opportunities and funding for district staff in negotiated agreements and contracts. Boards that embark on their own board certification journey show that they “walk the talk” and also place a high importance on the board’s own continuous learning and improvement to enhance its ability to provide governance.

For more information on board certification, contact your field service representative. – Jesse Adams, Jr.

Our board is considering restructuring our current governance structure in terms of our committees. How can we find out information about different committee structures?

Your field service representative can provide you with information about various committee structures that are used in districts throughout the state. First, the board should review its bylaws to ensure that its current structure is reflected in bylaws (in NJSBA’s policy numbering system, this would be #9130). The board president may reach out to the FSR and schedule a time to meet with the board to discuss committee effectiveness and various committee structures (standing committees), i.e., committee of the whole, use of specific committees, ad hoc committees etc. Ultimately, the governance structure is a decision for each board/superintendent team. The goal is to collaboratively decide and then implement the committee system that will work effectively and efficiently for the board and administrative team.
Mary Ann Friedman

Policy is one of the board’s responsibilities. Does that mean I’m going to spend the next three years actually writing policies word-for-word?

Not really. While policy is certainly the purview of the board, as in other areas of board responsibility such as negotiations and financial oversight, the board will typically make use of a professional service to help keep it stay up-to-date and compliant with the broad range of statutory obligations and New Jersey Department of Education standards and practices. In addition to helping the board keep its “house in order” from a compliance perspective, policy services will typically be available to guide boards in crafting the local flavor on some aspects of policy that are customizable, or developing policy that is specifically applicable to a district’s unique needs and circumstances. NJSBA’s Policy department, as well as some private firms, can provide the board with detailed analysis of its current policy manual, as well as offering updates as required by changes in code or regulations. NJSBA’s website also has extensive policy resources available to members. 

Your field service rep is a good resource for helping you find assistance with your policy needs and understand the board’s role in developing policy and how it provides the critical guidance for the administration of the district.  Matt Lee

My spouse has applied for a vacant position in the school district where I am a member of the board of education. We have been informed that he/she is unable to apply as I am board member. Is this correct?

The short answer is, yes, that is correct. 

But let us look at what is behind that answer. A board of education is most effective in accomplishing its oversight responsibilities of the school district when the public has confidence in the board and trusts the board to make decisions that positively impact the educational process. Any action, either perceived or real, that would lessen the public’s trust in the board due to a potential conflict of interest, affects that relationship. The action that a board would take to approve a board member’s spouse to a vacant position can be perceived by the public as a conflict of interest. 

If you look in your district’s policy manual, you will see a mandated policy on nepotism that outlines the district’s position on the hiring of relatives of school officials. N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-6.2 stipulates that as a condition of receiving state aid, the board of education shall enact a policy that will prohibit the board from initially appointing a relative of a board member or of the chief school administrator to any employment position in this district and further, the chief school administrator shall not recommend to the board for initial hire any relative of a board member or of the chief school administrator. In this instance, the definition of relative is any person related to the member by blood, marriage, or adoption. 

This only affects the hiring of your relative in the school district where you serve on the board of education. Your spouse is free to apply to be hired at any other school district. – Terri Lewis

I am a new board member serving on a board with several other newly elected board members. Our board could benefit from a training program on the roles and responsibilities of a board member. How can the entire board receive training?

Each board’s designated FSR can offer training and provide resources, information and guidance related to the roles and responsibilities of a board member. The board president, superintendent, or business administrator can reach out to the field service representative to schedule a training session. Additionally, NJSBA has webinars, editions of School Leader magazine and School Board Notes newsletter, and various professional learning opportunities for individual board members to help advance their knowledge and understanding of their roles. Each year the field service team conducts a program called “3Rs: Roles, Responsibilities, and Resources,” which provides opportunities for new and not-so-new board members to learn about boardsmanship, ask questions and network with board members from other districts. The program is typically held in late November or early December, and is announced in School Board Notes.
 Michelle Kennedy

How does the role of the board president differ from that of other board members?

The board president is elected by the board to preside at all meetings of the board. While the role of president comes with additional duties, the voting authority of the president is the same – participate in discussions with one vote, just like every other member of the board. 

Many of the duties of the board president are determined by statute, board policy and parliamentary procedure/Robert’s Rules of Order. State law does confer some specific areas of authority on the board president through statute, including: certify the payroll, call special meetings of the board, sign bonds issued by the district and sign warrants for payment by the custodian of school moneys.

Board policy typically gives the board president the authority to assign standing committee members and the chairperson and to create ad hoc committees. Sometimes the board president is an ex officio member of all committees. Policy often also authorizes the board president to speak publicly on behalf of the board, giving a voice to the consensus of the board majority. 

Robert’s Rules of Order considers the duties of the presiding officer to call the meeting to order at the appointed time, develop the board meeting agenda, assign the floor to members to speak, put motions to a vote and to enforce the rules relating to debate and decorum. The president should be familiar with parliamentary procedure and the board’s bylaws and policies.

Board presidents should promote the board working as a team, be a communication conduit, build consensus and encourage open expression of opinions by extending fairness and courtesy to all. Running a board meeting can be a difficult job and not all members want this additional responsibility. – Charlene Peterson 

Why should I attend a county school boards association meeting?

The county school boards association meetings are opportunities for board members to receive professional development and timely information on current education initiatives, legislation and regulations affecting public schools. By providing time for networking with colleagues from boards of education in your county and throughout the state, the meetings enable board members to stay connected and work together to advance the achievement of all public-school students. The goal of the county school boards associations is to enhance the skills and knowledge of local board of education members. Attendance at county meetings also earns credits toward NJSBA’s Board Member Academy certifications. – Patti Rees

As board members, we are asked to approve personnel items on the agenda. Am I permitted to see evaluations of staff that I hear from other parents are problematic?

The board is only permitted the opportunity to review staff evaluations when the board is taking action, such as renewing a contract, or withholding an increment. You are not permitted to review confidential personnel evaluations because you have heard something negative or positive about a staff member or because the staff member is your child’s teacher. 

If you are hearing about a personnel issue, you should notify your superintendent and board president about what you are hearing in your community.
Gwen Thornton