If you’ve been a board of education member for a few years, it’s easy to forget all that you needed to know when you began your board service.
NJSBA provides the mandated New Board Member Orientation course, which covers a wide range of topics including ethics, the Open Public Meetings Act, policy, school finance, school law, student achievement, and more. The Association urges new board members to take the course at their earliest convenience, to get up to speed on what is expected of them in their new role.
Your board’s NJSBA field service representative (FSR) is an invaluable resource for new board members; he or she should be a board member’s first stop for information, advice and guidance on fulfilling this new role. Not sure how to contact your district’s FSR? If you type in your district’s name on the field services page of the NJSBA website, contact information will pop up.
We also recommend that new board members take the time to look at NJSBA’s publication, Fundamentals of School Board Membership, available free for board members. The book is an anthology on the basics of board membership with articles on topics ranging from board-superintendent relations and tips for new board members, to the board’s role in curriculum and in finance.
But local board members need an orientation that covers information specifically on their school district, and how the board operates. While new board members may know a great deal about their local community, they almost certainly don’t know everything they need to know about their local school board. After all, even the most involved community member doesn’t know what has been discussed in board of education executive sessions or negotiations committee meetings.
They also need to become acquainted with the practices, policies, procedures and traditions of the board itself. Boards have varying methods for bringing new members into the fold. Some have a briefing book they provide, while others provide a new member with an unofficial mentor or advisor.
A first step is for a board of education to provide materials to the new board member within a week or two of the election or appointment. Much of the information listed below may be available on the district’s website, but it’s a good idea to provide the precise url, or even a printed copy of some materials for the board member.
NJSBA recommends the new board member be provided with the following:
- The district’s policy manual
- A list of standing board committees, if the board functions by a committee system, along with their duties and responsibilities, and the method of selecting members
- Minutes of the last three to six months of board meetings
- The district’s strategic plan
- The district’s budget
- The board by-laws (if they are separate from the policy manual)
- All negotiated contracts, including the superintendent’s contract
- The manual(s) for school district employees, if such a document exists
- The student handbook
- Board member ethics materials, including the a copy of the Board Member’s Code of Ethics, and the ethics and financial disclosure forms board members are required to fill out.
Get Acquainted If he or she hasn’t done so before, a new board member should meet the district’s top administrators, including the superintendent and the business administrator. In districts with several schools, it is likely that the new board member has never even been inside some of those schools. It’s easier for board members to make decisions on district facilities if they have seen them. Arrange a tour of district facilities for new board members, and other members who may be interested.
Topics to Discuss Whether it’s in talks with the board president, another board member, or the chief school administrator, there are topics that should be discussed with a new board member.
How is the board agenda drawn up? Does the board observe Robert’s Rules of Order to run meetings or other parliamentary procedures? Does the board operate as a committee of the whole, or accomplish work in separate committee meetings? Is there a particular order for roll call votes or reading motions during meetings? How does the board get opinions and information from the board attorney? Who is the official board spokesperson? What is the chain of command and how should a board member handle complaints or problems that come to them? What are the board’s and the district’s most pressing problems?
In a broader sense, new board members need to understand that there is a learning curve to being an effective board member, just as there is with any new undertaking. It’s a good idea to spend the first several months listening carefully, and building relationships with other board members before trying to enact an agenda. New members also need to appreciate the fact that they are one vote on a board and that a majority of the board is needed to approve any new measures.
NJSBA can help a new board member further his or her education beyond the Governance I course, and the in-district orientation. County association meetings offer a steady stream of timely programs on topics selected by the county leadership. Board members can attend county programs in their own county, but are also permitted to attend the free programs in other counties which may be cover issues of specific interest to the board member.
The Association’s Board Member Academy, a certification program that delivers training in all areas of school governance responsibility, also offers the New Board Member Boardsmanship Certificate. Board members can qualify for the certification by completing certain training requirements in the first two year of board service.
More information on all available programs can be found on the NJSBA website.