Board members admit that the most surprising discovery about board service is the great amount of time it takes to be an effective board member and the tremendous variety of concerns with which the board deals. Often times the abrupt change from “citizen” status to board member status catches newly elected board members off guard. They are suddenly bombarded with concerns and complaints from friends, acquaintances and people they’ve never met before. They no longer can be out in the community without being approached by one or more citizens about concerns within the school district. And, even when you tell them that your authority to act is limited to board meetings, they’ll see you as a 24/7 board member.
The board member and his/her family and possibly business will inevitably be affected by a board member’s investment of time and talent in the schools. If you learn to manage the demands of public service on your private life, board service can be rewarding and enjoyable. Most boards meet once or twice each month with a typical meeting lasting between two and four hours; emergencies may prompt additional special meetings. Board members may also have to attend committee meetings that require even further preparation and time. The board member’s involvement in community affairs and attendance at school programs and events accounts for even more dedicated time to the board member’s schedule.
Many newly elected board members are unprepared for the huge amount of board-related paperwork they must read or for the multitude of new information they must learn in a very short time. It’s not uncommon to hear board members state that it takes them several hours prior to a board meeting to review their board packet thoroughly and to get all their questions answered.
Without question, there is a huge time commitment required to serve on a board of education. However, experienced board members often find that the tremendous satisfaction they reap from their public service greatly outweighs any negative aspects of the job or personal sacrifices they must make. Still, anyone running for the school board should be well aware that they will be dedicating many hours to fulfilling the responsibilities of their new position.
- Determine how you will manage the multitude of information you will be receiving by developing your own filing and paper routing system. Keep in mind that your administration keeps on file all the board packets and agendas from past meetings. Because everyone works differently, you will need to organize on the basis of your own most effective way of working. Don’t get bogged down in paperwork and skim documents with an eye for the most important points.
- Familiarize yourself with board polices to get a feel for the many details of school operations.
- Use the minutes and agendas of past board meetings to learn about the kinds of issues that have come before the board.
- Learn to say “no.” Prior to being elected to the board, you were probably very active in community and school events that required much of your time. You will have to make some decisions about those activities you need to give up in order to make time for your new board responsibilities. This requires you to establish priorities and learn to say yes to only the priorities at the top of your list. For very service oriented board members, this may be one of the most difficult challenges for them.
- Decide how you want to handle the many concerns, questions and requests you will be receiving from community members both in person and by phone or mail. The time you spend on responding to community concerns can consume your life if you allow it to. Designate times when you will return calls or respond to letters. When approached out in the community, let concerned citizens know you have a limited time to talk with them, but assure them you will contact them later (at a time more convenient for you) or contact the appropriate person to handle their concern. As public officials, board members have a duty to listen to community input. However, they also have a right to protect some time solely dedicated to their personal lives.
- As a new board member, you can save time right from the start by learning as much as you can about the school system. Primarily, you need to learn what channels to go through for information which you should learn during a district orientation program. Meet with the superintendent and board president to learn more about how the board operates and key issues the district is facing.
- Attend conferences and training classes provided by MASB to learn as much as possible about your responsibilities as a board member.