The Role of the School Board in Managing Reputational Risk

Lena Eisenstein
For school boards, reputational risk can jeopardize the goals, strategic plans, and even work accomplished toward success for the district. Risks can vary by districts and schools, but it is imperative for boards to do the research and work involved in mitigating those risks.

What makes managing reputational risk difficult is that it is usually a different issue that ignites the spark. For school boards, the risks associated with a district's reputation includes issues like cybersecurity, compliance, and transparency.

A public education institution's reputation is a valuable, and fragile, asset. To quote Warren Buffet, 'It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.'

School boards expose school districts to risk by neglecting the management of key issues or outright participating in inappropriate or illegal activities. However, the consequences are not just felt by board members when these risks are not properly managed, but by schools, administrators, staff, and students.

Opportunities for student achievement and success diminish when school boards disregard their fundamental responsibilities to manage and mitigate risk.

Risk management requires planning and preparation.

The first step for boards tackling risk management is the identification of the various risks in which the district might be exposed to and the breakdown of those risks by how frequent they may occur or severe they may be. The next step is seeking ways to reduce these potential risks through preventative plans of actions.

Managing risk is not simply having insurance in preparation for litigation or another issue. Risk management requires serious planning, preparation, and continuous work to maintain the mitigation of these risks.

Utilizing a board management software, school boards can share policies, procedures, and other materials related to risk management for the district. Information regarding the prioritization of risk management plans can also be secured in a board portal.

Strong cybersecurity practices protect the district's assets, information, and reputation.

Some boards or board members may not truly appreciate the significance of cybersecurity in mitigating risks for the district. However, most can name an incident where a school district was negatively impacted by a cybersecurity issue, damaging their reputation, which can cause community members to question the security of student information or district assets. These concerns directly relate to the reputational risks that boards may face. is an online education platform and during June of 2019 the
personal information of millions of students was exposed. A database that contained nearly 7 million student records was left open, and any person with a connection to the internet could access it. The issue affected's A+nyWhere Learning System (A+LS), which is utilized by more than 1,100 school districts in the United States.
By highlighting real-life incidents that have occurred within other districts, the board can express the importance of cybersecurity risks and develop and implement methods for management.

Managing cybersecurity risks includes establishing and implementing cybersecurity training for boards and districts. Cybersecurity is associated with risks that can catch even the most experienced board members off guard. School boards must understand that cybersecurity threats should be treated like any other kind of organizational risk. The same amount of detail and preparation associated with mitigating financial risks should be implemented when preparing and conducting school board cybersecurity training.

The right technology can support a school board through strong cybersecurity features that can prevent data loss or exposure. Ensuring that your board's information is protected and secure means that your board has more time and energy to spend on other important issues. Maintaining secure and encrypted digital records, strong recovery methods, and a secure cloud network encourage a culture of strong cybersecurity standards.

Transparency and compliance with policies and regulations cultivate a positive board reputation.

A culture of trust and transparency between school boards and the community that they serve can be a struggle to establish and maintain. School boards face many transparency challenges (complying with open meeting laws, engaging with the community, etc.) that can impact the trust and engagement from the local public, leading to reputational risk.

A school board in Ohio is finding that mounting transparency issues has led to parents concerned about the board's oversight of the district and how it may have negatively impacted the education received by students. The reputation of one district can be essentially destroyed by a school board, intentionally or accidentally.

However, by leveraging the right technology school boards can successfully promote and preserve trust and openness with the community that they serve, while complying with laws, policies, or regulations.

School boards often face transparency challenges related to the access to information, whether it be meeting information, minutes, agendas, or other related materials. The right tools can be leveraged for school boards to streamline relevant information for public access.

In compliance with open meeting laws enforced by their state, school boards can leverage meeting management software to provide meeting materials, district goal information, and even videos of meetings in a central online location.

Technology can address transparency challenges faced by school boards by providing user-friendly and easily-accessible tools that engage and inform the public about key issues while enabling residents to share their thoughts or concerns.

Board management software can maintain pertinent board materials (such as: policies, agendas, minutes, legislation, and other important documents) and make this information easily accessible to board members and the public. Creating easier access to pertinent materials for community members to stay informed is key in leveraging technology to reducing school board transparency challenges.

When boards engage with families and community members, schools see a significant increase in their reputation. This can result in greater student achievement, improved attendance, and other positive effects on student performance.

Utilize resources that support boards in managing risk.

Leveraging the right technology, boards can be equipped to perform their best work while recognizing and managing risk. A seamless and streamlined board management software, like Community by Diligent, allows school boards to have an increasing number of opportunities to apply technology in ways that will address and mitigate risks involved in public education affairs.

Investments in technology for school boards are truly worthwhile, as board management software allows for increased community engagement and transparency, maintenance of records and policies, and secure portal access.

Community maintains pertinent board materials (such as: policies, agendas, minutes, legislation, and other important documents) and makes this information easily accessible to school board members and the public (various security levels are available to protect sensitive information). Not only are public constituents able to access this information, but it can be made searchable by keyword.

When creating paperless meeting agendas, specific articles or documents can be linked within the agenda items. Access to meeting details, agendas, and previous minutes allows school boards to maintain compliance with state laws and regulations. Creating streamlined access to pertinent materials for members of the public to stay informed demonstrates how technology can be used collaboratively to maintain transparency while maintaining secure access to board information.

School boards can leverage Community to support planning related to identifying and managing risks, increasing board training, and upholding policies and regulations related to the work of the board. The board can utilize the portal to assess the issues that may impact the district's reputation and find ways to address and mitigate these risks.

Identifying and mitigating risk is a key responsibility for every school board. Being proactive in addressing the issues that can lead to reputational risk can give school boards an advantage in protecting their districts, schools, and students.
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Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is a former Manager at Diligent. Her expertise in mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits, school boards and local governments, centers on how technology and modern governance best practices empower leaders at these organizations to serve their communities with efficiency and purpose.