Committee work is not always used to its full potential on school boards — in fact, many boards do not use committees at all.
This could be due to time restrictions, or old habits — but committees offer opportunities for deeper discussions around important topics, and more boards should use them to their advantage, especially for topics that merit deeper discussion.
Here, we’ll highlight some of the ways your board can start leveraging committees to reach better informed decisions and increase the transparency of their decision-making processes.
Why school board committees are beneficial
Dan Romano, West Claremont Local Schools Treasurer in West Claremont, Ohio, has used committees for many years.
He sees how committees allow the board to tap into the skills and interests of each board member, and lead to deeper discussions on critical topics.
His experience has also shown that committees help new members plug in more quickly, as they come to understand the work of the board and their role.
Committees have limited decision-making authority, but they can be a vital part of board decision-making by feeding in discussion points and information.
An effective board management system makes committee discussion points readily accessible, including any reports, minutes and agendas.
Committee meetings and reports reflect the critical work of the district, and are then discussed by the board prior to board action. Many districts have found that the utilization of committees keeps the board more up to date in specific with reports or executive summaries during the full board meeting. Citizens also have access to public materials that shape the committee agenda.
Typical committee structures
There are three types of committees in a typical board structure:
- Special or ad hoc
- Committee of the Whole
Standing committees serve a continuing and important role. They might focus on things like policy or finance, with detailed discussions and recommendations that go through to the whole board. The board relies on the depth and research of the committee to help guide them.
Special or ad hoc committees
Special or ad hoc committees are formed for a specific purpose and commonly disband once their task is complete. This could be a bond committee or a redistricting committee. These committees cover functions typically not under standing committees, and that are too in-depth for the full board.
Committee of the Whole
Committees of the Whole unite the entire board as a committee to discuss and debate issues before making decisions. Committees of the Whole could also apply when two committees meet together and that group then comprises the whole board.
In West Claremont Local Schools, Romano established a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) to represent the interests of the community and make recommendations to the full school board.
The structure provided by their board management system (BoardDocs) allowed the district to create a partitioned committee portal to organize and manage the activity. This gave the community members full access to their board materials without risking confidential materials of the school board. The school board members still have full access to view the CAC agendas and materials, and can stay abreast of the conversations within that committee. Romano notes that this makes the CAC a “real” thing — part of the whole, giving purpose to community members willing to share their time.
Committee work provides a forum for deeper discussion and research on individual topics, while also allowing for more efficient meetings of the entire board. Committee reports keep the board updated on all areas of critical work done in the district, usually prior to board action.
Optimizing school board committees
Here are some ways school boards can use committees effectively:
Define the purpose and scope of each committee
School boards should clearly define the purpose and scope of each committee to avoid overlap or duplication of efforts. Each committee should have a specific task or issue to address, such as budget planning or facilities maintenance.
Recruit members with relevant expertise
School boards should appoint committee members with relevant expertise, skills and experience to ensure that the committee can make informed decisions. For example, a facilities committee should include contractors or subject-matter experts who can provide input on the development of new buildings or the improvement of existing ones.
Provide clear guidelines and expectations
School boards should provide clear guidelines and expectations for each committee, including timelines, goals, and reporting requirements. This helps ensure that the committee stays on track and produces tangible results.
Foster collaboration and communication
School boards should encourage collaboration and communication among committee members, as well as with the larger school community. Regular meetings, progress reports, and opportunities for feedback can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the committee's work is aligned with the school board's goals and priorities. With board management software, everyone has access to the latest documents in a single source of truth.
Use committee recommendations to inform decision-making
School boards should use the recommendations of each committee to inform their decision-making process. Committees can provide valuable insights and perspectives on issues that may not be immediately apparent to the board, and their recommendations can help ensure that decisions are well-informed and evidence based.
Community expectations regarding transparency are growing
“eGovernance has moved from efficiency and effectiveness to an expectation,” Dan Romano quips. He notes online usage has extended to all age groups now; gone are the days of only certain age groups using electronic communications. With that change has come the expectation of easily accessible agendas and minutes, as well as archived documents from committees.
School boards can use committees to their advantage by leveraging the knowledge and expertise of their members, fostering collaboration and communication, and using committee recommendations to inform their decision-making process.
School boards can then use a board management solution like BoardDocs to efficiently structure and share the work of the committees.