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November/December 2012

As boards' primary work, policy should matter
by Brian Zumpf

Brian Zumpf is an IASB policy consultant and works out of the Association’s Lombard office.

Question: Our district is interested in a Policy Manual Customization to develop a new, up-to-date local school board policy manual. Why should board members be involved in developing this manual? Isn’t that what we hire IASB for? Why can’t IASB just work with our staff?

Answer: The Illinois School Code gives school boards the power “[t]o adopt and enforce all necessary rules for the management and government of the public schools of their district.” [Section 10-20.5] It also provides that “[t]he school board shall direct, through policy, the superintendent in his or her charge of the administration of the school district … .” [Section 10-16.7]

The policy manual is where the board sets out its governance directives for the district. Those directives are then reviewed by administrators who create written administrative procedures in order for the district to “live” the board’s policy. At all times the board adopts policies, while the administration develops procedures to implement those policies.

A board’s involvement in the policy development process specifically, and with board policy generally, is beneficial to both the board and the district. Not only are a board’s interactions with policy opportunities for board members to learn about the district, but they also offer a board the chance to include ends (mission, vision, and goals) in the district’s foundational document.

The policy manual is a powerful tool for the board to convey to the district’s staff and community its expectations for the district, and its promises with regard to those expectations. A board that limits its involvement in the policy development or updating process to the final review and adoption of policies has given up a large part of its authority and responsibility to people who were not elected.

Superintendents and other administrators are instrumental in providing guidance to the board, including apprising the members about current district practices and how new policy directives will impact those practices. But ultimately, board policy is the voice of the board, which should reflect the intent of the board, because it was worked on by the board.

IASB policy consultants work with a board during and after the policy manual development process to aid boards in understanding policy requirements, intent and operation. Members of IASB’s Office of General Counsel (responsible for drafting the sample policy content) are available to provide legal information and legal resources.

The board attorney should be consulted when the board seeks legal advice concerning policy content and application.

Once the customization is complete, IASB has tools such as PRESS and PRESS-Plus to help boards in their policy maintenance work.

No matter what stage a board is at in its policy work, it is never alone. All of these people — from IASB policy consultants and members of the office of general counsel to district administrative personnel and the school district attorney — support the board in what is unquestionably the work of the board: the board policy manual.

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