Are your board meetings effective? For too many charter boards, the answer is no.
But, board meetings are important. Your full board meetings — and committee meetings in between — are where your board’s work happens.
If your meetings are ineffective, you run the risk of board member engagement dropping off. Stellar board members could leave the board because it just doesn’t feel like an effective use of their time and skills. Or, worse yet, the board could fail to provide the oversight and governance leadership it’s there to execute.
What makes board meetings ineffective?
Ineffective board meetings are usually the result of a combination of contributing factors.
It could be the operational elements, like ensuring trustees know the schedule and have the materials they need in advance. Communicating the schedule, gathering RSVPs, or creating and distributing packets in advance, all can help.
Or, it could be more of the strategic elements of board governance. Your trustees might be unclear about what they’re supposed to do — both collectively and individually.
To improve your board meetings, you’ll want to take a look at all of the following best practices.
Board meetings should be where the strategic work happens
Every board meeting should be focused on dealing with at least one strategic, policy-level issue.
Think carefully about how best to use the group’s time. Board time is precious and should be used efficiently. If the full board meets every month for two hours, that adds up to only one full day a year!
Avoid simply reporting during board meetings. Instead, committees should identify strategic issues and facilitate a board discussion around those issues.
It’s not necessary for each committee to report at each board meeting. They should report to the full board only if they’ve reached a conclusion to be shared with the board or if they wish to bring an issue to the board for a strategic discussion or vote.
The same should apply to the CEO report. The CEO’s report should not dominate the boards’ time together. This is a time for the trustees to contribute to strategic discussions, or learn and ask questions about what they need to understand in order to hold a vote.
To be efficient and effective, help board members show up prepared
An advance packet of information should be sent out before every board meeting.
Board members should come to the meetings having read the advanced materials, which typically provide background and context for the strategic issues to be discussed.
Typically, too much board time is wasted explaining facts and figures. Providing these in advance allows the group to start the discussion with the same information and to focus on the strategic.
We know how time-consuming it can seem to be to put together a packet for each meeting, each month — let alone to ensure people receive and read their packets. BoardOnTrack makes this simple.
Meet regulaly. Meet often enough to do the work. And stick to your schedule.
Set your schedule well in advance. And keep to your schedule as much as possible.
Board members are volunteers and lead busy lives. It’s more realistic to expect them to routinely attend board meetings if they know about them well in advance.
Ideally, you should set and communicate all the board meeting and board retreat dates a year in advance.
Choosing a consistent cadence for your meetings can make this doable. Many charter schools hold their board meetings during the third week of the month. This allows time to prepare the financial statements for a timely review by the board.
With a tool like BoardOnTrack, trustees can easily see, at a glance, the board’s full schedule for the year. Or drill down to see the agenda or minutes for any meetings — upcoming or past.
How often should your board meet?
A charter school board, particularly in its first five years, should meet once a month, or at a minimum, 10 times a year.
During the start-up (pre-opening phase), it may be necessary to meet twice each month before there are paid staff people at the school. Once the school is open, and unless there is an unusual situation, the full board should not have to meet more than once a month.
Does meeting every month seem too time-consuming? Have your board members said they’re too busy to meet monthly, but would like to meet every other month?
We recommend you find and recruit people who can make the kind of time commitment you need.
The board holds the charter and is ultimately accountable to your authorizer, and the community, for the well-being of the school. There are too many critical, policy-level decisions that need to be made, particularly in the first few years of the charter, for the board to hold fewer than 10 meetings a year.
Comply with your state’s open meeting laws
Most charter school boards are a bit fuzzy on the interpretation of the Open Meetings Law. The most important thing is to understand the intent of the law, but not to be paralyzed from doing good work because of it.
The spirit of the law is that the public sees the board doing its work in public. That shouldn’t stop you from holding open, honest, and difficult conversations. Let the public hear the tough questions you ask, and see the hard choices you make together.
The more we all understand about what it takes to deliver exceptional public education, the better off we’ll be. Observing a public charter school board in action is an excellent way to educate interested members of the public.
Remember that your board’s composition is constantly changing. Your team will need periodic training and orientation around the Open Meetings Law.
BoardOnTrack makes is simple to stay in compliance with your state’s Open Meeting Law. Our public portal option allows you to display your scheduled board meetings, approved agendas, and approved minutes, all with link on your website.
FRANCES TESO, FOUNDING CEO OF VOICES COLLEGEBOUND LEARNING ACADEMIES, RELIES ON BOARDONTRACK TO SUPPORT HER BOARD’S TRANSPARENCY.
START AND END ON TIME.
Charter schools are extremely fortunate to find trustees who believe in the school’s mission and who are willing to give a substantial amount of their time to governing the school each month.
Honor them by beginning and ending according to the scheduled time.
MEET EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE A QUORUM
Except in rare circumstances, meetings should be held as scheduled. Even if you don’t have a quorum.
The only thing you can’t do without a quorum is vote. Plenty of businesses can still be conducted. The first order of business should be to discuss the absentee rate and develop a strategy to address it.
EVALUATE YOUR BOARD MEETINGS
You can only manage what you measure. So, to improve your board meetings, first you’ll need to evaluate them.
There are a number of quick and easy ways to do this. In five minutes or less, at the end of each board meeting, you can .
You might simply go around the room and ask trustees to weigh in on:
+ what was good about the meeting
– what wasn’t effective about the meeting
Δ what they would change
Or, develop a quick set of standard questions to ask each trustee. This might include:
- Was this an effective meeting?
- Why or why not?
- How could it have been improved?
- What percent of our time was reactive vs. strategic?