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Chairman's Gavel: Developing the board agenda

Chairman's Gavel: Developing the board agenda

By Susan Salter | AASB Director of Leadership Development 

Like most other aspects of governance, development of the board’s monthly meeting agenda works best when the board president and superintendent approach the task as a team.

Purely as a matter of practicality, it is generally the superintendent who drafts the agenda since he or she officially serves as the board’s secretary and, as the system’s CEO, knows the various issues and items that need board attention. Then the superintendent will meet with the board president to review and discuss the items proposed to come before the board.

As president, you should consider several factors when reviewing the proposed agenda:

  • Does it include all items carried over from the previous meeting(s)? Such items might include proposed policies that have been given a first reading and items referred to the superintendent for investigation or recommendations. In this regard, you serve as a safeguard to ensure items don’t slip through the cracks.
  • Does it include all the items you would expect at this time of the year? At different times of the year you can expect certain topics to be front and center. In April or May, for example, the board likely will have initial budget-priority discussions and a final budget must be approved in time to meet the state’s annual Sept. 15 deadline. Likewise, the spring meetings will generally include discussion about personnel issues such as principals’ contracts and tenure and re-employment decisions. In addition, some boards have developed a planning calendar to ensure they receive and discuss specific data reports in set months. As president, you will need a good understanding of what the board should be tackling and when.
  • Can the board reasonably expect to adequately discuss all these items at one meeting? Sometimes you have no choice but to have a lengthy and weighty agenda. But when you do, you risk giving short shrift to items that fall at the end (or making hasty decisions because everyone is ready to leave). If you have several topics likely to generate a long debate, consider postponing more routine items to a later meeting so that important items get the attention they deserve. Or, consider using a consent agenda to dispense with routine items quickly.
  • Is student achievement at the forefront? It is the school board’s job to set performance goals for the system and monitor progress toward meeting them. You can’t do either unless you also are deeply knowledgeable about achievement data. And that requires regular data reports, board/staff discussions and a good sense of what indicators will tell you if the system is on track to meet goals. If the board consistently is just handling routine items and adjourning, you are unlikely to push the system forward. A word of caution: It is not just up to you as board president to keep the focus on achievement. If you realize it’s not the focus, begin by scheduling a work session to talk about the need to change how the board’s been operating and to work with the superintendent to create a reasonable plan for doing so.

A final caution: Be judicious about limiting items on the agenda or disregarding them. If the items are not appropriate for the agenda, find a way to address the concern or issue to build or reinforce a spirit of board collaboration.

Originally published in April 2012.


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