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Ethical school board members, ethical school board meetings
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
School board members face ethical decisions in their roles and responsibilities – many of them faced before, during and after the school board meeting.
The best practices equal ethical practices, according KSBA’s director of Member Support/Communications Services Brad Hughes, who conducted several clinics on the topic of ethics and the board meeting during KSBA’s annual conference. But, he cautioned, the best practices are not always in board policy.
Among the questions school boards must consider prior to the meeting is who sets the agenda. In theory, the superintendent and board chairman should work together to set the agenda, but in reality, that isn’t always the case. In some districts, the superintendent alone sets the agenda.
Regardless, Hughes said it’s important that all board members have the ability to add items to the agenda and receive the meeting materials sufficiently in advance to study them.
“You agreed to serve on the school board so you must come to the meeting prepared,” he said.
Hughes said it is OK for board members to have discussions before a meeting “when done ethically,” which means there cannot be more than two members involved in a discussion, whether face-to-face or via email. More than two constitutes a quorum.
It’s also important for everyone to review the minutes of the board and make corrections, if needed.
“There’s a difference between correcting and changing minutes,” Hughes said. “Legally and ethically, it’s a different matter.”
During a meeting, board members need to be consistent and fair. Hughes advised that boards should have a policy that details how much time people are allowed to speak during public comment periods to be fair, whether the speaker is supporting the board or criticizing it.
Board members should be aware of parliamentary procedures and all members should have equal opportunity to participate and speak during meetings, he said.
Hughes said when a board member is speaking, he or she should:
• Get to the point.
• Avoid attacking others.
• State specifically what is being requested.
When board members disagree over an issue, they should be civil and respectful.
If the board needs to go into executive session, Hughes said the board needs to:
• Make sure it’s legal and necessary.
• State specific statutory authority.
• Invite the public back in after the regular meeting resumes.
• Observe confidentiality after the meeting.
He also suggested school boards should periodically review their meeting times to make sure they are fair to all board members.
After a board meeting, members need to make sure their decisions are communicated to the public. A school board, Hughes said, cannot leave it to the local media to get the word out.
“There are times when critical decisions are made and the public needs to know,” he said.
Hughes said every board member should be able to speak to the media about board decisions and that it would be “unethical to have only the board chair be able to comment.”
“The board should speak for itself and the superintendent should speak for the district,” he added.
If the local media reports about a meeting contain inaccuracies, the board should work quickly to get the correct information out to the public, Hughes said.
In every aspect of a board member’s role – before, during and after meetings – he said it’s most important that each member use his or her own personal standards to determine what is ethical.
Note: As part of the training, Hughes used KSBA’s instant polling technology to ask questions regarding board policies for those in attendance. Look for a story detailing the results in a later issue of the Kentucky School Advocate.
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