What was your motivation; what made you run for the board? I will bet that no one took on this time-consuming volunteer venture because they thought the masses would praise them in the streets or request their autograph.
Most likely there was a need for volunteers and as an involved member of the community who cares about education and student achievement, you stepped up to the plate. With any luck you entered into a situation where your enthusiasm and ideas were welcomed.
I am sure more than a few of you did not, making your assignment even harder. For all the board members who spend countless hours agonizing over tight budgets, holding out for better deals in their negotiated agreements, bravely voicing the opinion of the minority faction, and being the public face for every bitter controversy in the district – thank you!
Saying “thank you” somehow seems insufficient as a form of recognition for such a difficult and involved volunteer activity. The learning curve for the job is so steep that the law requires each new board member to receive training in Ethics, NJQSAC, superintendent evaluation and bullying (N.J.S.A. 18A:12-33). Board members are also required to receive ongoing training to stay on top of the frequent changes in education law.
Despite the many duties board members have, such as participating in mandatory trainings, the painstaking review of extensive and often baffling reports, the hours spent in regular and committee meetings, and the day-to-day accountability each board member has to the community, the law allows for very little more than a “thank you” as compensation and recognition for all you do.
The expenditure of district funds and accepting gratuities from private sources are largely prohibited by law. Board members, as public officials, have to be Caesar’s wife, above any suspicion that the member’s authority can be influenced by compensation.
The district may expend reasonable costs for the recognition of board members. Stated in the accountability regulations at N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-5.8(d)1 Board of Education Expenditures for Non-Employee Activities, Meals and Refreshments:
(d) “Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:11-12 and State of New Jersey Department of Treasury, Office of Management and Budget Circular 08-19-OMB and 06-14-OMB, the following costs shall not be permitted using public funding:
1. Receptions, dinners or other social functions held for or honoring any employee or group of employees of the district (for example, breakfast, luncheon, dinner, or reception for retirees or award recipients). This does not prohibit districts from honoring employees without a social function or using public funds to support reasonable costs of employee recognition awards (for example, teacher of the year awards, years of service awards). Use of public funds for reasonable costs of employee awards is a local discretionary expenditure.
Board members are unpaid volunteers, not employees, so the application of this citation is unclear. But if the law allows reasonable costs for employee recognition, it is likely to allow the same for the recognition of unpaid volunteer board members. Additionally problematic, the law and the OMB circular give no clear indication of what a reasonable cost is.
Even though the law restricts the use of district funds for gifts and celebrations, the importance of recognition should not be overlooked. Recognition is essential for communicating that work and effort are valued. It is motivating and helps individuals sustain effort over time. It reinforces investment and cultivates ownership in the success of the school’s operation. So if a “thank you” is all a board has to work with, then be creative.
A popular low-cost solution is to pass a resolution that cites some of the accomplishments of the retiring board member. The resolution may then be printed on high quality paper and placed in a low cost frame for presentation to the member. Often, to personalize the presentation, the other board members, the superintendent and the business administrator sign the resolution.
Many boards have policy defining the how and why members will be recognized. Frequently board policies limit recognition to the end of term and retirement.
End of Term
“When a board of education member ends his/her term on the board after completing three or more years of service, the board of education, in recognition of his/her service and dedication, will purchase a book for the school library in honor of the former member. The cost of the book shall not exceed $40.00. The book will contain a bookplate inscribed with the member’s name and years of service.” (N.J. district sample language)
In this example, the district recognizes the board member but no public funds are expended for the board member personally.
“When a board member retires from the school board, the board of education, in recognition and appreciation of his/her service and dedication, shall direct the superintendent and/or the business administrator/board secretary to purchase item(s), whose value will not exceed $45, to be presented to the retiring board members as a token of appreciation.”(N.J. district sample language)
This sample quantifies a reasonable cost of $45. Some boards elect to buy an inscribed plaque to give the board member. Alternatively, some districts present an engraved plate that is mounted on a plaque displayed prominently in the school lobby or board office.
Other board policies have greater differentiation with levels for length of service and meritorious contributions to the school. Reasonable expressions of gratitude range from a certificate to a plaque. Length of service is easier to quantify and recognize consistently in increments of years served.
However, outstanding achievement is more subjective and therefore the criteria established can be more difficult to apply fairly. How do you define which is more outstanding – the board member who dutifully checked all the district invoices each month for five years or the member who spearheaded your popular new student-centered digital classroom initiative? Is it a good idea to publically recognize the achievement of the negotiation committee after successfully gaining an advantage in a contentious negotiation? No doubt all these members are worth their weight in gold but contributions vary and it can be hard to define the greater effort. The timing of the recognition may also require consideration. In the example of the successful negotiation committee, the bruised feelings the staff may have regarding the negotiation outcome may be exacerbated by recognizing the committee.
Some district samples define other conditions of a more sober and compassionate nature with the recognition of condolences.
The board of education recognizes that each officer and employee of this district is important not only to the school district but to their family and the community at large. The loss of any officer or employee of this board by death is a loss that the board and the district share with the deceased’s family and the community.
The superintendent shall recommend to the board and the board may approve appropriate recognition measures for a deceased board officer or employee that recognizes length of service or extraordinary accomplishment that especially distinguished his/her service to this school district. (N.J. district sample language)
When times are hard, it is always a comfort and a reassurance to know that the other members of the board are thinking of you so the recognition of illness and loss is another supportive measure the board can take.
If an employee or board member is hospitalized, the board of education shall acknowledge the occurrence by sending an appropriate get-well card and appropriate gesture such as flowers. For subsequent stays during the same school year, a card will be sent. (N.J. district sample language)
Most individuals who make the decision to serve on their local board are driven by passion, commitment, and a belief that effective education gives each child the opportunity to achieve a meaningful place in the increasingly complex world. Still, it is a hard job and oftentimes a thankless one. It can be difficult to sustain passion and commitment without feedback and recognition. Clear, workable and legal policy on board member recognition is a good place to start reinforcing that the work you do is difficult, important and appreciated.
For policy samples related to board member recognition please contact Jean Harkness or Steve McGettigan. The policy department also has sample policies for staff recognition and citizen and organization recognition upon request.