Your board of education is where the buck stops in a school district. That’s the group of folks who vote the superintendent’s recommendations up or down, hire and fire the chief school financial officer, and approve the budget (which is the tool through which the board and community priorities are implemented). Your board also formulates the policies that govern the activities of your schools.
And unless your superintendent is elected, your board is also responsible for hiring and firing the superintendent.
In short, your board of education CONTROLS every important aspect of your school district. These are folks you need to know.
Do you have any idea what your board does? Every board of education in Alabama meets every month. Some meet twice a month. Some even add work sessions on top of those meetings.
Do you know when your board of education meets? Do you know where the meetings are held?
Have you ever been to your school district’s board of education meeting? (If you haven’t, you’re not alone.)
Here in my home district, our City Council just appointed a new board of education member to begin a five-year term in June. Seven people were interviewed. The interviews were public. I’ve been attending these interviews since they opened them up to the public in 2006. Every year, one of the questions posed is: have you ever been to a board meeting? And every year, without fail, the vast majority of the applicants confess they have never personally attended a board meeting. And in all but one year since 2006, the Council has appointed a person who has never attended more than one board meeting in all of the years they have lived in the city.
How do you know if you want to be a board member if you’ve never been to a board of education meeting?
If you’re reading this, you obviously have a serious interest in Alabama’s K-12 public schools. It’s also likely you live somewhere in Alabama. So chances are good that you have a particular interest in one or two school districts. Maybe you’re a parent. Maybe you’re a teacher. Maybe you’re an administrator.
I challenge you to attend two board meetings in the next six months. Just show up. Grab an agenda (maybe they’re online!). And listen in. Listen to how much information is shared, or not. Find out whether your board asks questions of your superintendent or simply rubber stamps everything the superintendent puts in front of them.
What does your board talk about? Do they talk about improving student achievement? Or does their conversation center on academic and employee awards and sports accomplishments?
Does your board allow the public to participate in the meeting in a meaningful way? Do they require a week’s notice to address the board? Do they require you to only speak on agenda items or can you speak on any topic of interest? Do they limit the time you can speak from the podium? Do they move the podium to a different place when it comes time for the public to address the board?
Can you ask questions of your board members from the podium and expect the board to provide answers? Are there other meetings and places where you can officially voice your concerns to your board of education members?
Square One – Find Out When Your Board of Education Meets and Where
All boards of education are required to notify the public of when their meetings will be held. They are also required to post an agenda. Both, of course, are minimum requirements.
Regarding the required notice, here is what the Alabama Open Meetings Act requires:
A local school board shall post notice of each meeting on a bulletin board at a place convenient to the public in the central administrative office of the board.
Yes. Really. That’s what is required. So if you don’t happen to live near the central office, it’s likely you will never know when your board meets, unless your board cares enough about your school community to post its notices online or perhaps even create an email list for notification of meetings.
The only information required for an agenda put out ahead of the meeting is a general purpose of the meeting. And that only has to be posted on the same bulletin board as the notice.
For a full look at the Open Meetings Act, check out this training manual.
Three boards of education go far above and beyond the minimum by posting their meeting notices on the Secretary of State’s Open Meetings web site.
Though not required, Autauga County, Colbert County, and Elba City Boards of Education all post their meetings on the state web site.
The Secretary of State’s Open Meetings site even has a Twitter feed! Follow @alsopenmeetings and you’ll get notices like these in your feed:
Colbert County Board of Education meeting 4/17/2014 @ 5:00pm: http://t.co/OJVGHEqhpW
— AL Open Meetings Act (@alaopenmeetings) April 16, 2014
The Alabama State Board of Education posts all of their meetings.
Take the Challenge
C’mon. Go out there and find out WHEN your board of education meets and where. Show up. Twice. In the next six months. Make it a priority.
Take your children. Take your friends. Take your mother. Find out what your board of education is talking about. Find out what their priorities are.
No Guilt Trip Necessary
If you are now questioning why you haven’t attended a board meeting, here’s a good look at why it’s likely never crossed your mind.
We’re not lazy. We’re not apathetic. We’re just not invited. The good thing is that we don’t have to be invited. We just have to figure out where the meetings are held. And show up.
If you’d like, please add your board of education meeting information to this Google doc (here’s the link to open in a new page). You don’t have to leave your name, but please be sure you’re providing accurate information. Thanks!