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Good School Boards Attract Good School Board Members

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, July 19, 2017

While many of us who serve on a local school board continue to find the overall experience rewarding and worthwhile, long-standing school board members have probably noticed that it is becoming increasingly harder to entice qualified and dedicated individuals to run for open positions. The time commitment, along with the current political climate, has combined to make serving on a school board feel like an increasingly thankless job.

Moreover, the MASB Legal Team has been receiving an inordinate number of calls over the past year regarding serious discord among board members, as well as a particular rise in hostilities between board trustees that are playing out publicly. This only adds to the anxieties of serving on a board; making it not only more difficult to attract candidates, but also leading to a significant increase in board member resignations, particularly from individuals who are still in their first term of service.

Retaining individuals who have already made the commitment to serve must become a priority. It is important for veteran board members to not only mentor newer members, but also to provide them with the resources they need to survive, and thrive, in these increasingly challenging times. MASB’s First-Year Orientation Guide (free) is a great starting point. It addresses many of the initial unknowns and complexities of becoming a new board member that will, in turn, reduce the shock and surprise that can accompany a new board member’s first few months of service. Likewise, our Surviving Your First Year publication ($14.95) is an excellent Q&A style booklet designed to touch upon many of the “real world” questions new board members may have.

In addition to putting these types of resources in the hands of new board members soon after they begin their term of service, it is also crucial that at least one veteran board member offer to be available to new trustees as a guide and, above all, an encourager. One of the most reassuring things that a new board member can hear is that difficult situations come and go, and that public scrutiny has a way of fading over time. For most communities, an occasional tumult involving the school district is nothing new, and rarely lasts long.

Finally, it is important that veteran board members and new members alike have a solid understanding of their roles and responsibilities, and a firm knowledge of what it means to be a good board trustee in service to the students of the community. In addition to understanding the board’s duties under the Revised School Code ($12.95), as well as what is required via the Open Meetings Act ($14.95), grasping the need for collaboration and ethical behavior is vital. A Code of Ethical Relationships (free), which was developed in collaboration with the many other public organizations, is an excellent guide. This booklet outlines the roles of board members and education administrators with helpful guidance as it relates to fostering and maintaining respect, credibility and accountability amongst district leadership and with the community.

As always, if you feel that your board has begun to lose sight of its primary function, which is to act in the best interests of its students, and needs some guidance and instruction on the importance of collaboration and constructive dialogue, do not hesitate to reach out to our Leadership Services Team. Getting out in front of these issues with instruction and training, before they become public controversies, can ensure that your board remains effective; and an effective, well-functioning school board is the type of board that highly qualified people want to be a part of.

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