The other day I was trying to figure out how many different charter school or school district board meetings I've been to. I decided there were too many to count. Lately, I've seen some trends in charter school boards. Specifically, charter school boards that don't know how to keep control of the meeting. It's rare to find a board chair with experience to handle unusual situations as they occur. Most often, an effective chair has a wealth of previous experience to react correctly.
Monthly board meetings are for the board to conduct its business. These are meetings conducted in public, but they are not open to public discussion. Each business meeting should have a public comment line item, which is an appropriate time for comment from parents or community members. The chair may limit the amount of time each person has to speak and should make sure individual students or staff members are not discussed by name. Further, it's wise for the board to only listen, and not interact with the speaker.
The board chair should monitor the pace of the meeting to make sure its productive and people don't get off subject. In fact, every board member should help the board chair with this responsibility. If the discussion wanders, any director can call "the question" and the motion must be voted on without further discussion. Each director should arrive at the meeting prepared to discuss agenda items and prepared to vote, if required.
The board president, along with the school's principal, should set the board meeting agenda. The board president should ensure agenda items are relevant to board action or information and that supporting documentation is included in board packets. Board packets should be distributed to the entire board a week prior to the meeting. Many charter school boards now put their entire board packet online, which is a great way to ensure transparency by making access very easy for the school's stakeholders.
Board meetings should advance the school's vision and mission. Charter schools that say they're about academic achievement, but little or no board time is spent discussing academic achievement, needs to re-examine priorities. The board president is ultimately responsible to ensure board meetings are focused on the school's vision and mission.
To support the governing board speaking with one voice, every charter school board should lead through a strategic plan. The plan is updated annually. A key part of each update is a discussion about the vision and mission of the school. Each director carries an individual vision for the school, but only through a discussion can the board understand what the common vision and mission contains. The board should checks its progress on the strategic plan at least quarterly at meetings. One of the main reasons to have a strategic plan for the school is that it's an effective way to communicate the board's purpose and goals.
Over the years, I've seen and heard some funny anecdotes from charter school boards:
* the board that discussed whether homemade or store bought cookies should be served at school functions
* the board chair who allowed audience members to interact throughout the entire meeting
* board meetings where people just sat around and discussed things for hours; even board members weren't sure of the outcome after the meeting
* the board that had officer elections only to rescind them two weeks later and create new officer positions so that everyone had a "title"