Whether you are a new board member or have been sitting at the board table for many years, there are always questions that come up as part of the job.

Perhaps it’s figuring out how to respond to the sudden resignation of a board member, finding a new superintendent or figuring out how to become a more effective and cohesive board. Whatever your issue, the New Jersey School Boards Association’s field service representatives stand ready to help board members solve problems and get their questions answered.

Below are some questions the Association’s field service representatives have recently answered for local board members. 

I am very involved with volunteering at the schools. Can I still volunteer at my child’s school now that I am a board member?

Serving on the board does not prevent volunteerism in the schools; however, consideration needs to be given to the degree of involvement and degree of authority. Always advise the superintendent of your volunteer work. Be guided accordingly with the code of ethics. 

One of our board members just resigned. What do we do now?

Don’t panic! The board has 65 days following the resignation to fill the vacancy, however, the board should start the process as soon as possible. N.J.S.A. 18A:12-15 is the statute that provides boards with the legal process. Check your policies and bylaws. Typically, a board’s bylaws will also address how to fill a board vacancy. NJSBA’s sample policy is 9113. 

Your field service representative has great information to share regarding filling a vacancy, a sample advertisement/press release to announce the vacancy and how candidates may apply, sample questions to ask candidates, best practices for filling a vacancy, etc. The successful candidate will need to fulfill all the qualifications to be elected to a board of education, i.e., be able to read and write, hold U.S. citizenship and one year’s residency in the school district, be registered to vote in the district, etc. He or she will also need to undergo the criminal history background investigation through the New Jersey Department of Education. Interviews to fill a vacancy are held during the public portion of a board meeting, and the board may go into executive session to deliberate. Board members should strive to appoint someone who is willing to learn and become an effective board member. Hopefully, the remaining board members reach consensus on the selected candidate. A simple majority vote, in open session, of the remaining members is needed for the appointment.

What professional development programs can a field service representative provide our board? 

The answer is, “Ask your field service representative and they can send you a list of offerings.” A list can also be found on the NJSBA website under, “Training” and then under “Field Services Programs” or by visiting this link: www.njsba.org/services/field-services/a-sampling-of-njsba-field-services-programs. If you don’t see a program to meet your need, your field service representative can customize a program to meet the identified needs of your board.

Should the whole board be involved in a superintendent search or just a committee? 

One of the most important decisions a board makes is the hiring of a new educational leader for their district. Every board member should want to have his or her voice heard for this crucial selection. That said, some boards may have a subset of the board, or an ad hoc committee do some of the early work, like resume screening or some of the later work, like reference checks, to expedite the process or allow other board members to continue to work on other board priorities. 

But when it comes to the interviewing and deliberations on the decision to hire, all board members should be given the opportunity to assess candidates and express their opinions. One consideration in this process that may limit members is the presence of a conflict. If a board member is related to an employee of the district, it is highly likely that they would be excluded from all aspects of the process based on that relationship. For clarity on the existence of a conflict for a specific board member, the board attorney should be consulted. 

Which board members can contact their field service representative with questions, comments, or concerns?

Each board of education has a dedicated field service representative accessible to all board members. Your field service representative is one of many NJSBA resources that can assist with your boardsmanship. All current board members can contact their field service representative at their discretion to discuss various topics they encounter.

When should our board begin planning for the superintendent’s evaluation process?

Recognizing that adhering to the legal requirement to complete the superintendent’s evaluation by July 1 is one of the indicators in the Governance section of the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, it is recommended that the board develop an evaluation calendar shortly after its reorganization meeting. Early planning not only ensures compliance but provides for a thoughtful process and strengthens the board-superintendent governance team. Consider the steps and meetings your board needs for this process, and work backward from the July 1 deadline. Use your last board meeting in June to hold the evaluation summary conference with the board and superintendent in executive session. Then continue to work backward and align the process to your meeting schedule when possible. The result will most likely be that late spring is a great time for your board to get started. Your field service representative can provide a sample evaluation calendar to support your board in the evaluation process.

Although we complete the chief school administrator evaluation every year, we do not complete the board self-evaluation. What is the importance of the board self-evaluation to the board and the district?

Although boards are not required by statute to complete this, the board self-evaluation is considered a best practice. Boards are encouraged to complete the board self-evaluation on an annual basis. The evaluation provides an opportunity for the self-reflection of the board and of individual board members. It can help board members see where they work well together and where there is room for development. One outcome of the board self-evaluation is the development of board goals. As opposed to district goals, board goals are set to improve the processes and tasks of the board. Board goals can be the basis for improved governance, continued improvement and building a cohesive team. This will enhance the board’s ability to focus on and support the district’s vision and goals.

Completing the board self-evaluation is simple. You can access the evaluation from a link on the NJSBA homepage. Your field service representative can provide information, guidance and analysis of the board self-evaluation.

As mentioned earlier, your field service rep is always available to answer questions and provide resources to local boards of education. If you are uncertain who your FSR is, go to the NJSBA website here (www.njsba.org/services/field-services), find the box that says “Find Your FSR” and type in your district name. Contact information for your field service rep will pop up.