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What Committees Should Your Board Have?

Having active, engaged committees completing substantive, strategic work in between board meetings is key to building a sustainable charter school — or even a network of schools.

Yet, having effective committees is among the top challenges faced by public charter school organizations nationwide.

We’ve found that the challenges largely stem from confusion about which committees your board needs, what they do, and who should serve on them.

Before solving for that, let’s do some level setting on the basics of board committees.

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In general, board committees outline key issues and recommendations for deliberation by the full board. 

An effective board committee should engage the board in strategic dialogue and facilitate the board’s decision-making.

They do the deep work outside of full board meetings, enabling good process and decision-making while saving the full board valuable time.

In addition, board committees might decide whether a matter needs to be addressed by the full board, advise staff on key issues, or take on the planning and execution of a significant project.

For example, a detailed review of the cash flow for the organization may be done by the Finance Committee, which then recommends to the board that a line of credit be established. Although the full board is responsible for the decision, board members rely on the diligence and thoughtfulness of the Finance Committee’s recommendations.

ACTIVE COMMITTEES ARE KEY TO BOOSTING BOARD MEMBER ENGAGEMENT

 

Committee work is an essential part of the evolution from a founding board to a sustaining one.

Charter boards go through a natural evolution, moving from being reactive during the founding phase to being more strategic as they learn to govern for growth. At each stage along the way, committee work is essential.

Still, some founding board members might feel concern about delegating essential board work to committees. You’re only delegating the research, and the framing of strategic issues, to the committee. Decisions are still made by the full board.

Committees have limited decision-making authority. Their work will always have guardrails set by the full board and informed by clearly articulated annual strategic goals and initiatives.

Over time, committees gain the confidence of the board by doing their work well and engaging the board when appropriate. In a sense, educating the board appropriately on your area of specialization is as important as the actual work your committee is responsible for performing.

 

Worried that your board is too small to have the full complement of committees?

If you’re just starting out, you might be too small to have all of our recommended committees. You might be a committee of the whole, as we say — the whole board does the work of each committee.

If that’s how you’re working right now, you still want to know exactly what each committee does and what skill sets each committee needs. You want to be able to consciously shift gears or mindset from one committee to the next within each board meeting.

And be on the lookout for trustees or non-voting committee members to recruit as your board’s capabilities evolve.

 

Every public charter school board needs these five committees.

 

  • Governance Committee
  • Development Committee
  • Finance Committee
  • Academic Excellence Committee
  • CEO Support & Evaluation Committee

 

Governance Committee

Essential to your board’s overall strength.

How do you recruit the right trustees? How do you ensure each trustee understands their roles and responsibilities, and is held accountable for fulfilling them?

The Governance Committee is how.

Your Governance Committee leads the recruiting strategy, ensures new trustees are oriented well, organizes the annual retreats where strategic planning happens, assesses the boards strengths and ensures the board receives necessary professional development.

The Governance Committee is commissioned by and responsible to the board of trustees to assume the primary responsibility for matters pertaining to board member recruitment, nominations, orientation, training, and evaluation, in accordance with the bylaws of the organization and established policies and practices approved by the board of trustees.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE KEY RESPONSIBILITIES OF A GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE

 

Development Committee

Determining the role of private fundraising to augment the per pupil funds your organization receives is a vital strategic question for any charter school board. After al, ensuring that the organization has sufficient funding to support the growth and expansion of the organization is critical to long term sustainability, and there is a philosophical question to answer about private fundraising.

The Development Committee assumes the primary responsibility for raising non-grant funds to support the organization’s mission.

Fundraising is a skill and a profession. The trustees on this committee should be seasoned development professionals. People who know how to develop and implement a realistic fundraising plan, and mentor the other trustees in this area so they might contribute..

 

SEE OUR SAMPLE DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE GOALS AND TASKS

 

Finance Committee

Every public charter school is a multimillion-dollar venture. And financial mismanagement is the number one reason charter schools fail. Sound financial oversight is a critically important function for your board.

The Finance Committee works with the CEO and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to create the upcoming fiscal year budget, presents budget recommendations to the board, monitors implementation of the approved budget on a regular basis, recommends proposed budget revisions, and recommends policies for the management of the organization’s assets.

A Finance Committee is not a substitute for the full board understanding and carefully reviewing the organization’s financial statements and financial health.

This committee should be large enough to bring several different perspectives and a variety of financial skills to the important task of financial oversight. With the proper size, finances will be a strength for your organization.

 

LEAD A HIGH-FUNCTIONING FINANCE COMMITTEE

 

Academic Excellence Committee

At the heart of every public charter school is a focus on ensuring nothing short of academic excellence for every child.

Your board’s Academic Excellence Committee measures the academic results of the organization against the goals established in your charter, accountability plan, and annual CEO goals.

This means measuring organizational outcomes against stated goals for metrics such as performance on state tests, national standardized tests, or interim assessments.

You might also look at metrics such as attendance, student and staff retention, and family and staff satisfaction surveys.

This committee ensures that the board and CEO share the same vision of academic excellence, that all trustees understand the charter’s academic promises, and leads the board in conducting proper oversight of the academic program.

FORM AND RUN AN ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE COMMITTEE

This committee is especially rife with potential pitfalls. Should you focus more on the means by which the organization pursues its mission, or the outcomes it achieves? Does your committee need to be staffed by professional educators? How does your committee avoid crossing the line into management work, when the work of the organization is academics?

 

AVOID THE MOST COMMON PITFALLS FOR ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE COMMITTEES

 

CEO Support & Evaluation Committee

Your charter school is led by one person. Though their titles vary widely, we call this person your Chief Executive Officer.

At every stage of your organization’s evolution, the CEO is the linchpin that makes your vision happen.

Whether you’re one school or a growing Charter Management Organization, having the right person in the CEO role, and ensuring they’re fully supported to do the best job possible, is absolutely vital.

The board is responsible not only for hiring {or, when necessary, firing} the right chief executive, but also providing the support and evaluation that helps your top leader raise the bar each year.

One of the most important functions of any governing board is to effectively select, support, and evaluate the CEO.

Your CEO Support and Evaluation Committee designs and develops the systems and processes that support the board-CEO partnership and help the CEO get better at their role. It’s a year-round process, and one that we’ve defined for you to follow.

This committee is critical to the health of the whole organization.

And yet, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that your board hasn’t yet formed one. Or, that your committee members feel frustrated and overwhelmed at their roles and responsibilities.

 

WHO SHOULD SERVE ON YOUR CEO SUPPORT AND EVALUATION COMMITTEE

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Every committee must have a job description and set of measurable goals.

Annually, the full board should approve a job description and a set of prioritized goals for each committee.

These two documents set the parameters for the committee’s work and confirm the full board’s buy-in to the committee’s proposed work for the year.

BoardOnTrack’s goals dashboard is built to track each committee’s goals, and help each committee fulfill their goals. Our tool even allows you to assign tasks to specific trustees, to ensure the work gets done. And with a dashboard to keep goals visible, you can keep your committees — and the board as a whole — on track during every meeting. It’s one of the ways we help keep boards focused on the priorities, not personalities; and empower you to do real work together.

 

Committee work in between boards meetings is vital. 

Committee work distills the big issues and frames recommendations for the board to discuss.

Committee work is the heart and soul of any board. And substantive committee work in between board meetings is one of the keys to an effective board. In fact, many charter school boards could be much more effective if they had active, functioning committees — and not committees in name only.

Small boards sometimes choose to do most tasks as a “committee of the whole.” This is a good strategy only for very young organizations — during the initial founding and startup years. But as you grow and your organization evolves, it is essential that you form committees, have clear committee work plans, and ensure that committees do substantive work in between meetings.

 

How often should your committees meet?

Committees should meet as often as necessary to accomplish their work. But, committees should only feel compelled to meet when there is substantive work to be done.

For example, a Facilities Committee racing to close a deal on a new building might need to meet every week for six weeks straight. Whereas, the Finance Committee might need a standing meeting once a month to review the monthly financials.

To the extent possible, map out all of your committee meetings for the year. And get them on your committee members’ calendars. Your trustees are volunteers — and very busy people. It’s much more likely they’ll come to meetings, and arrive having prepared in advance, if they know about them far in advance.

If you’re unclear about how many meetings any committee will need, it’s better to pencil them all in for the year. It’s easier to cancel meetings than it is to ask busy people to schedule them at the last minute.

 

Do committees need to take meeting minutes?

It’s important for each committee to keep accurate meeting minutes. They’re a record of the actions that were taken at the meeting, and by whom.

When you schedule your committee meetings in BoardOnTrack, managing your committee meeting minutes is simple.

The platform automatically creates a folder for each committee meeting in the meeting archive. As you create agendas, take minutes, and share documents for each committee meeting, all of those documents are automatically placed in the correct meeting archive folder for you.

This not only makes it simple for your committees to function at the highest level. It allows other board members to follow the work of each committee. And it ensures that you’re creating an institutional memory of the committee’s work, that can even survive changing committee chairs.

 

Strong board committees start with skilled committee chairs.

Strong committees that do substantive work between board meetings are a key component of an effective, strategic and sustainable board.

The committee chair is responsible for steering the work your committee does throughout the year, while also tying that work back in with the rest of the board.

Much like board chairs, great committee chairs have strong group process and facilitation skills. They know how to keep strong personalities focused on the right things, and how to move a group to a decision.

Each committee chair sets clear direction and norms for their committee. So, in addition to strong group facilitation skills, committee chairs must be able to:

 

  • Hold committee members accountable
  • Establish the right protocols for interacting with staff to preserve the governance-management line
  • Help all committee members navigate the tricky role of working directly with C-Suite team members

 

Your CEO and C-Suite leaders will also have a role to play on your board’s committees.

Committees should be the engine of the board. They need direct, expert support from staff to be successful.

As the organization grows, the CEO will delegate committee liaison work to their C-suite. Staff must be assigned to and clear on their roles to support and sustain effective committee work.

Committee meeting agendas are created in partnership between the Committee Chair and the CEO or their designee {a C-suite member}.

But, in the beginning, they will be heavily involved in the committees, as well as the board overall.

The CEO sets and achieves the management goals, and supports the board in achieving their goals. And the board’s goals will be assigned out to each committee.


 

RELATED RESOURCES FOR BOARDONTRACK MEMBERS

The BoardOnTrack platform includes an extensive and ever-expanding library of resources. Here are a few key resources to ensure you run strong committees with BoardOnTrack.

How to maintain your committees in BoardOnTrack

Sample Standard Operating Policy For Board Committees

Sample BoardOnTrack Recommended Calendar for each committee

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