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Who Should Serve On Your Board

We often get questions about whether or not a CEO or founding leader should serve on the board after they leave their position, or if a student is a good candidate.

These strategic questions are common and important to understand. BoardOnTrack has the answers after working with hundreds of boards through these tricky recruiting questions.

Let’s look a 5 top questions regarding these recruiting nuances.

Should CEOs or founding leaders serve on the board after they leave their position?

Best practice strongly recommends against departing CEOs becoming board members upon leaving their position.

Among the many reasons for this, we’d like to highlight two:

  1. Separating governance and management is already a challenge.
    Even the most seasoned professional will have a hard time separating management and governance, in this situation. Departing CEOs just have too much insider, management-level information.

  2. The presence of the former CEO might undermine the authority of the new CEO.  
    It’s hard enough coming into a new leadership situation and carving out your own style and path. Having the former leader present at every board meeting will make the transition more difficult. Even if the former CEO has the best of intentions.

BoardOnTrack Recommends: Wait a minimum of two years before inviting a former CEO to serve on the board.

Should family members serve on the same board?

Although in most states there are no explicit laws forbidding family members from serving on the same board, there are significant risks in doing this.

The most important quality for the board to have is a level of objectivity. This is clearly tainted when family members serve on the board.

The charter school is a public entity, representing the interests of the broad taxpayer base. Having family members on a board significantly compromises the board’s ability to do this well.


BoardOnTrack Recommends: Establish a nepotism policy that guides decision-making should the issue arise.

Should parents of students currently enrolled in the school serve on the board?

Again, a key to governing effectively is maintaining objectivity. The majority of board members should be from the community at large, and are selected because they bring specific skills to the board. A board that’s comprised of too many current parents is, by its nature, lacking in objectivity.

It isn’t necessary to have any parents of current students serving on the board. If you choose to include parents of current students on the board, their number should be limited to no more than 25% of the board’s membership. In our experience, boards govern most effectively when 25% or less of the board members are parents of students currently enrolled in the school.

Seats on the board should be one part of a much broader strategy of parent involvement. Here are some tips to make the role of parent trustees work most effectively:

  1. While having an active parent voice at a school is essential, this is a management function, not a governance function.
    A key responsibility of your CEO is to make sure there are proper channels to hear from key stakeholders.

  2. Do not reserve seats on the board for parent representative{s}.
    Parent representatives can give the board a false sense of security that they’re hearing from parents. When, in fact, they’re only hearing from a small number of highly motivated parents who have the time to serve on the board. One, or even three, parents simply cannot speak for all the parents in the school.

  3. If you want to have a parent voice on the board, consider having the elected chair of the school’s parent council hold a seat on the board.

  4. Put measures in place to ensure that if you do have parents on the board, they do not become official or unofficial “grievance officers.” Your school should have a clear grievance policy, and it should be followed.

  5. If you do nominate parents to the board, ensure that they’re selected because they bring necessary skills needed to run a multimillion-dollar public enterprise, rather than being nominated because they’re well-meaning parents.


BoardOnTrack Recommends: The board should have a detailed discussion with the CEO about the role of parents in their school. This should be a broad conversation that covers questions like: “What is the role of parents in the school?” and: “How do we ensure that their concerns are heard?”

Should students serve on the board?

Student input is important for any school, but gathering that input should be a management function.

It’s certainly appropriate for the board to ask the CEO how student input is being solicited throughout the year. But it should be up to the management of the school to determine when to seek student input, and what type of input is appropriate.

To date, we haven’t seen any successful examples of students serving on charter school boards.

BoardOnTrack Recommends: Student input should be managed by the CEO, not included as a seat on the board. However, if your board will include a student, we recommend checking out Youth On Board. This nonprofit’s mission is to help boards receive input from the youth they serve.

Should teachers serve on the board?

Teachers are very important stakeholders in the school. Seeking regular input from staff is a management function. An effective CEO regularly consults with the staff about policy matters and brings this information back to the board. This has proven to me a more effective strategy than seats on the board.

School staff should not serve on a charter school board. Having staff as board members can undermine the authority of the CEO.

Board members must discuss the CEO’s salary and performance review, as well as compensation for other staff members. It is inappropriate for school staff to be involved in these discussions.

BoardOnTrack Recommends: If your state requires teachers to serve on charter school boards, you of course should follow this requirement. Be very clear about their roles and responsibilities. Set up structures so that they do not undermine the authority of the CEO.

These 5 common questions are understandable and the answers are not necessarily intuitive. Recruiting is a vital part of your success. Use this valuable data when selecting your next board members.

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