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Chairman's Gavel: 5 things every board president should know

Chairman's Gavel: 5 things every board president should know

By Susan Salter | AASB Director of Leadership Development

Whether you specifically sought the position of board president or took the reins because your board rotates the presidency among its members, no doubt you’ve had at least a moment or two where you thought, “So … now what?”

Serving as the president doesn’t come with special powers or status – you’re simply a leader among equals – but it does put expectations on you in a number of areas.

Here are some of the key things all board presidents should know right off the bat:

  • Actions the superintendent’s contract requires of the board. Review the superintendent’s contract carefully for provisions that call for board action. Put these on your board calendar right away so that time doesn’t slip past you. Failing to meet contract provisions could put the board on slippery ground if for some reason you needed to nonrenew contract down the road. The whole board has a duty to ensure the team complies with contract terms. But, in reality, it almost always falls on the president to be the date keeper on a number of provisions, including:
    • When must the superintendent be evaluated?
    • Must the board set goals for the superintendent’s performance? If so, does the contract specify when?
    • When does the contract expire?
    • How much notice must you give the superintendent before the contract is nonrenewed?
  • When the superintendent last got a raise and whether it was automatic. This could be in the superintendent’s contract. But many boards leave themselves the wiggle room to choose when a raise is given and how much it will be. As a rule, the board should tie compensation to job performance. Thus, any discussion of a raise would automatically be one of the final stages of the annual evaluation of the superintendent’s performance.


    As president, make a point to know when the last raise was given, how much it was and when the board needs to consider another increase. When it’s time for the board to discuss it, you have a couple of options: You may talk to the superintendent first to get a sense whether he expects a pay raise and how much he hopes for, or you may talk with the individual board members first to determine their interest in pursuing a raise. This is where your knowledge of your board and its general satisfaction level with the superintendent’s performance are critical.

  • The basics of Robert’s Rules of Order. Board meetings are the board’s public face and can tremendously impact the way your school system is perceived by stakeholders. Nothing derails a team’s credibility faster than having chaotic, out of control meetings. Take the time to learn the most commonly used parts of the rules of parliamentary procedure immediately. Learn:
    • Which types of motions require a second and which don’t;
    • Which motions are debatable;
    • What to do if someone “calls for the question” or raises a point of personal privilege;
    • When and how to suspend the rules; and
    • When and how to rescind or reconsider an action.

      The answer to these and other basics of parliamentary procedure can be found on AASB’s Parliamentary Procedure Cheat Sheet and in Parliamentary Procedures for School Boards, an easy-to-read guide developed by the Missouri School Boards Association.

  • The basics of the Open Meetings Act. You don’t have to be an expert on the law; you have a board attorney for that. But take the time to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals, including how much notice must be given before a regular or called meeting vs. an emergency meeting or a meeting to accept a resignation. Also learn the reasons for which the board can go into executive session and the procedures for doing so (which can vary depending on the reason). You can get the details in AASB’s Boardmanship Series Booklet Public Meetings and Public Records. Also check your policy manual for a policy that impacts how much notice the board is required to give prior to meetings as some boards put into policy the requirements of previous versions of the open meetings law.

  • How to handle public comments at board meetings. Whether it’s one person or an angry mob, it falls squarely on the board president’s head to maintain order and fairness when you wade into the public comments portion of the board meeting. First and foremost, read the board’s policy on this (assuming you have one). It’s probably wise to have a copy handy at every board meeting where citizens will be allowed to go to the podium and speak. Know how long, based on policy, the board allows citizens to speak and under what circumstances. Have a plan for what to do if a person begins to verbally attack an employee or refuses to yield when his time is up. It’s also helpful if you have a relatively standard response for those situation in which a speaker is bringing a problem to the board for resolution. Generally, this involves thanking the person for bringing the matter to the board’s attention and asking the superintendent to look into it and bring the board any needed recommendations for action.
Originally published in May 2015.

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