What is the role of the School Board?
The school board is a policymaking body that oversees the Superintendent of Schools. It is the Superintendent who is responsible for the operation of the school district and its employees.
What are the different kinds of Board Meetings?
The Spackenkill Board of Education holds different kinds of meetings: Regular Meetings, Special Meetings, and an annual Reorganizational Meeting. Each is described below. During any of these meetings, a segment of the meeting may be devoted to a Public Hearing, or the Board may opt to go into Executive Session. These are described below as well.
These meetings are the meetings during which most of the district’s business is conducted. The Board takes action on items listed on a consent agenda. These items include actions such as accepting resignations, appointing employees, accepting minutes of previous meetings, approving business reports, approving employee contracts, etc. The Board has several weeks to review agenda items before they go to a meeting and vote on them. Supporting documentation is provided and questions are asked of the administration in advance of the meeting so that Board members are prepared to take action at the meeting. Public participation is permitted at these meetings during the “Comments from the Public” section of the agenda. Typically one-half hour before each Regular Meeting of the Board, the Board conducts a workshop session, open to the public, during which time Board members may discuss items on the agenda or ask for particular items to be removed from the consent agenda.
We usually schedule eight of these meetings each year [often referred to in our district as “Long Range Planning Meetings.”] The Board hears presentations about district programs and events and/or engages in discussions about district matters. These meetings are open to the public; however, since these are working sessions of the Board, public participation is usually not permitted. As the name implies, it is also sometimes necessary to call a special meeting to address a time-sensitive issue or to deal with a circumstance that has arisen.
This meeting is when the school board elects and appoints its officers and committees for the coming year, and board members take or renew their oaths of office. The Reorganizational meeting must be held each year in July.
Certain school matters, such as the budget adoption, tax exemptions, and changes to certain plans or policies require a public hearing, which is advertised as such, and which not only permits, but encourages public participation and dialogue.
An executive session is a portion of a school board meeting that is not open to the public. It is permitted only for a limited number of specific purposes that include the following subjects:
- Matters that will imperil the public safety if disclosed.
- Any matter that may disclose the identity of a law enforcement agent or informer.
- Information relating to current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense that would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed.
- Discussions involving proposed, pending, or current litigation.
- Collective negotiations pursuant to article 14 of the Civil Service Law.
- The medical, financial credit, or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal, or removal of a particular person or corporation
- The preparation, grading, or administration of exams.
- The proposed acquisition, sale, or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition, sale, or exchange of securities, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value of these things (Pub. Off. Law Section 105 [a-h]).
With certain limited exceptions, no official action can be taken on issues discussed in executive session without first returning to open session. An exception includes voting on charges against a tenured teacher.
What is BoardDocs®?
BoardDocs® is software program for running Board Meetings. Our district website, www.spackenkillschools.org, contains a link to BoardDocs®. Board meeting agendas are available to the public on the Saturday before a Board meeting. Following the Board meeting, any presentations made at the meeting become available to the public as well. This is an excellent way for people who cannot attend meetings to be aware of what is going on in the district.
Why does the Board use a consent agenda format?
By using the consent agenda format, Board members take action on all agenda items in one motion, rather than having individual motions for each item. Board members do, however, have the option to remove items from the consent agenda if discussion about an item is required or if the Board wishes to highlight a particular action.
The consent agenda works particularly well in our District for a number of reasons. First, we have a relatively small Board — five members rather than seven or nine. Because of this, the Board tends to be more focused. Additionally, because each Board member serves a five-year term and only one new member is possible each year, new members have a comfortable learning curve; this set-up also adds to the stability of the decision-making process. Second, when the Board and the Superintendent have developed a strong working relationship it fosters a confident team-approach to decision-making. Third, because the Board comes to the meeting prepared, discussion of most items is not necessary.
Use of the consent agenda, then, streamlines the meeting, and provides for better use of time. For example, it allows time to receive presentations about building level activities and showcase the talents of our students and staff.
Why doesn’t the Board usually discuss agenda items in public before taking action?
The Board has several weeks to review many of these agenda items before they go to a meeting and vote on them. Supporting documentation is provided and questions are asked of the administration in advance of the meeting so that Board members are prepared to take action at the meeting. Because Board Members “do their homework,” in advance of the meeting, most times, discussion on items is not required.
Why does the Board sometimes refer the community to administrators to handle a concern?
As stated previously, the Board is primarily a policymaking body; it is the administrators who implement those policies. A chain of command exists in school districts as it does in many organizations. It is important that concerns be addressed by the person closest to the source before going to the Board. Typically, the chain of command in a school district would be as follows:
- Assistant principal
- Central office administrator in charge of area [director of PPS for special education matters, Director of Curriculum for instructional matters, School Business Manager for food service, transportation, and/or facilities matters]
- Board of Education
- Commissioner of Education
What do the Board Members do in addition to attending Board meetings?
Each of our Board members is truly passionate about their role [for which they volunteer]. Each has attended meetings or conferences of the New York State School Boards and National School Boards Association to obtain training, see the best practices of other districts, give input to the legislative agenda, and meet with the vendors. To do this, most Board members use vacation days that they would otherwise have spent with their families.
Additionally, Board members participate on District committees, such as the Safety Committee and the Health Committee, and they participate in special legislative breakfasts and lobbying efforts. They are also active in local organizations such as the Mid-Hudson Study School Council; the Dutchess, Orange, and Sullivan Counties Association; the Dutchess County School Boards Association, their own regional school board cohort [area 9], and Dutchess BOCES.