Fairness to all can be a tough call when scheduling board meetings
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
Late last year, at least three Kentucky school boards had talked about a topic that probably doesn’t come up often: When to hold their regular monthly meetings.
Conversations about scheduling school board meetings aren’t new. Decades ago, almost all board meetings took place at the central office. These days, many boards move some meetings to schools. The change gives board members a chance for a closer look at academic and facility issues not so easily demonstrated in the board room.
But when the board should meet – the time and sometimes the day – are different discussions with different pulls and tugs on decision makers. There are some points to ponder in making such judgments.
(Note: 2015 meeting schedules were set in January. But some ideas herein may be worthwhile for special meetings this year, or when planning 2016 schedules.)
Whose needs to prioritize
Make no mistake about it: the first consideration in setting a board meeting time should be the board members themselves. Without the board members present, there is no meeting.
No board majority should ever set an annual meeting schedule that requires one or more of its members to take off work to participate. This may happen in an emergency or for the occasional special meeting, but not the regular schedule. Just because some board members may be retirees is no basis for allowing scheduling that puts a fellow member at a disadvantage.
Second in consideration should be the central office staff who have to be at the meetings. These folks – superintendent, finance officer, administrative assistant and others - already have put in a full day before the meeting time. Your staff deserve some thought in planning for meals or personal errands.
Odd as it may sound, the final attention for setting meeting times should go to parents, the public at large and the media. In two Kentucky board discussions last month, public attendance for meetings at different times was a key point of debate.
Yes, school board meetings are public meetings. But access to a 5 p.m. meeting will be different for a night shift worker at a factory than for a 9-to-5 office manager. Stay-at-home moms still will need a babysitter, regardless of the timing.
When a big issue arises for which the regular meeting time or day is inconvenient, be flexible. Make it the subject of a special meeting, timed to enhance greater participation. And make sure people know the meeting timing is being changed because you as leaders value public engagement in their schools.
Let technology help
An option to address board meeting access at particular times of the day – at least as to information given out – is to use live Web streaming and archiving.
Viewers can watch meetings live or at a later time of their choice, as opposed to CATV reshowings viewable only at specific times.
A second advantage of Web streaming is in portability – sessions are viewable on a computer anywhere, not just where a cable-connected TV exists.
Finally, districts can use Web-streamed meetings to create a new online resource. Let’s say an hour into your meeting, there’s a presentation on student drug testing. The district can either upload the segment of the archived video and link to that presentation, or it can add a note to the Web stream viewing instructions to find the drug testing presentation at the 1:14 mark on the archived video.
Web streaming isn’t a perfect solution to conflicting schedules, but it can allow district leaders to be responsive about the public’s ability to get firsthand information on an important topic.
The Last Word
It’s impossible to plan a year’s worth of regular board meetings times that always will satisfy participant engagement. All leaders can do is to be as fair as possible over the course of 12 months.
A school board that has met for 10 years at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month may well be doing the very best for all interested parties. But reviewing time, day, location and access just makes good leadership sense.
And that’s a message worth getting out.