September/October 2019

From the Field: So, You’re the Board President!

By Dee Molinare

Congratulations! Your school board has decided you should be the board president. Now what? Most likely, you are a seasoned board member and have experienced the president’s role from across the table. Your predecessor had qualities and style you want to emulate, or not. It is your time to lead, which requires some thought and a definite understanding of the role. 

Policy
Policy is the key to good governance. The duties of board officers are specified in PRESS sample Policy 2:110, Qualifications, Term, and Duties of Board Officers, in which the specific duties of the board president are outlined as follows:
 

“The Board elects a President from its members for a two-year term. The duties of the President are to:

  • Preside at all meetings;
  • Focus the Board meeting agendas on appropriate content;
  • Make all Board committee appointments, unless specifically stated otherwise; 
  • Attend and observe any Board committee meeting at his or her discretion; 
  • Represent the Board on other boards or agencies;
  • Sign official District documents requiring the President’s signature, including Board minutes and Certificate of Tax Levy;
  • Call special meetings of the Board;
  • Serve as the head of the public body for purposes of the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act; 
  • Ensure that a quorum of the Board is physically present at all Board meetings; 
  • Administer the oath of office to new Board members; and 
  • Serve as the Board’s official spokesperson to the media.
The President is permitted to participate in all Board meetings in a manner equal to all other Board members, including the ability to make and second motions.”

Your board’s policy may vary, but will likely contain language that outlines the president’s responsibilities. Policy is a great start to understanding the role of board president, but it does not stop there.

Running the meeting
As board president, your role goes beyond what is dictated in policy. Specifically in running the meeting you will need to:
  • Follow the agenda and start on time.
  • When the conversation begins to stray from the agenda, bring it back to focus.
  • Recognize members who ask to speak. Ensure all voices are heard and give all an opportunity to speak.
  • Be sure all members have spoken before allowing anyone to speak a second time 
  • Each speaker deserves your undivided attention.
  • Understand the board’s policy on public participation (PRESS sample Policy 2:230, Public Participation at School Board Meetings and Petitions to the Board) and adhere to it.
  • Always model courtesy and respect to all, and insist that others do the same.
  • Stay abreast of the emotional pulse on the discussions.
  • Utilize parliamentary procedure by properly using motions and points of order; guide your board in using proper parliamentary procedure.
Most school boards use Robert’s Rules of Order to conduct their meetings, and new presidents may want to become familiar with these rules — if they are not already. New board presidents may want to use a Robert’s Rules Cheat Sheet that offers the motion, what to say to achieve the motion, whether it’s allowed to interrupt the speaker, if a second is needed, if the motion is debatable or amendable, and what action of the board decides the motion. 

Agenda development
Board presidents work with the superintendent in developing the agenda according to PRESS sample Policy 2:220, School Board Meeting Procedure. Some districts include the board vice-president in the agenda formation also. Much of the agenda is driven by the annual calendar of school business needs. But a well-crafted agenda takes into account the district’s goals as well. It is not uncommon for the agenda to detail the specific district goal that the agenda item aligns to. This facilitates the board to stay at a high level of board work.

How and to whom do members inquire of board meeting documents/agenda items? How do board members respond during public comment? These types of questions are specific to districts. Members need to understand the process and all agree to the process. During a board self-evaluation, facilitated with your IASB Field Services Director, the group will discuss the needs and desires of the group and come to a consensus of what will work best for everyone. 

People Work
According to policy, you are the spokesperson of the board to the media. You need to ensure you report the facts of the district when speaking to the media. It is wise to confer with the superintendent to ensure your knowledge is accurate before reporting out to the media. 
As a representative of the board on other community boards, you will want to foster positive working relationships. 

And what about the relationships with your fellow board members? You may find yourself in a position to build and foster team relations. You will often be the mediator and facilitator between your fellow members. You don’t have to be a friend with all, but a collegial working relationship will provide an atmosphere that fosters a higher synergy level leading to a greater capacity for decision-making. You, as the leader, must gain the trust of the group. Larry Reynolds, in his book The Trust Effect, speaks to the qualities of a leader as having competence, openness, being reliable, and equitable or fair. 

When you are thorough with your agenda preparation and knowledgeable regarding meeting procedures, you develop trust by validating your competence. Providing an open atmosphere of sharing information and understanding others’ points of view demonstrates openness. Asking for feedback on your performance as a board president fosters further openness.
Acting with integrity and being dependable exhibits reliability. Are you fair to all, treating all justly? If so you are showing you are equitable to your fellow members. 

There are many aspects to the board president role. You can seek additional information from your IASB Field Services Director. Opportunities for further learning are available at the Joint Annual Conference, November 22-24, 2019, including a Pre-Conference Workshop on Friday entitled Leading Leaders: The Job of Board President. Also consider attending Saturday’s Networking for Board Presidents session and Coffee and Conversation for Board Presidents on Sunday morning. 

Your “job” as board president is challenging but rewarding. How you decide to lead will be your legacy to your district.
 
Dee Molinare, Ed.D., is Field Services Director with the Illinois Association of School Boards.