“I’d be very happy serving on a local school board. I just know that I have a responsibility to give back.” ~Andrew Zimmern~
Often when I mention that there is an upcoming local board meeting requiring my attendance, people say, “You mean a bored meeting don’t you?” If you think local school board meetings are boring, irrelevant, or a waste of time, I disagree. Locally elected school board members or “trustees” are non-partisan members of our community that ideally reflect the diversity of the Central Coast.
According to the National School Boards Association, a nationwide organization, 44 percent of school trustees are female (more than the rate of U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate) and nearly 25 percent are from underrepresented ethnic populations. Every school district in the country has an elected board of trustees. These nearly 95,000 people make up the largest group of elected officials in the country. In addition to parents, teachers, staff, and administrators, school board members have a direct influence on the quality of education provided within the communities they represent.
Typical school boards convene one-to-two times per month, are open to the public, and provide governance for the schools they represent. Trustees serve four-year terms with staggered terms to prevent large vacancies from occurring all at once. In most cases, a trustee must be at least 18 years old, a citizen of the state they represent, live in the jurisdiction they represent, are a registered voter, and are eligible under the state’s constitution to be elected to public office. Depending upon the size of the school district most trustees are unpaid or receive a small stipend and possibly health insurance coverage. Board members work from 10 to 40 hours per month on school district governance matters. School districts are complex, multi-million dollar organizations that require a governing board to oversee the needs of students, the needs of families, budgets, and to provide solid stewardship for the nation’s schools.
Highly functional school boards fill a vital role in maintaining local districts by always keeping the best interests of students first. Highly organized school boards that understand the meaning of trustee empower the superintendent, district administrators, teachers, and staff to manage their schools. Five key components of effective school boards are to set a vision, advance policy, demonstrate accountability, play a leadership role in the community, and forge consensus. The last component is often one of the most difficult to maintain in today’s media drenched political atmosphere. The title of this article is “Motion, Second, Discussion” not “my way or the highway.” An effective board is secure with differing votes and often encourages diverse opinions while continuing to forge consensus that moves forward with the majority vote representing the people who elected the trustees.
Experienced school board members know that true consensus is not about winners and losers. Motion, Second, Discussion asks all participants to consider and eventually affirm the key points:
1) “Are all voices heard?”
2) “Is the item understood?”
3) “Is it clear that the will of the group has emerged around the proposal?”
When a motion is made, if another trustee seconds the motion, the board then discusses/listens/votes on the motion, and true local democracy emerges. I encourage everyone reading this article to thank our locally elected trustees, attend a school board meeting, and engage in the civic process. For additional information, please contact your local school district or the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education (805-543-7732).
It is an honor to serve as your County Superintendent of Schools.