Working as a Legislative Body

School boards act principally as legislative bodies, but they also have some duties that require action similar to the role of a judge. In either role, the board acts through voting in open sessions during public meetings. Voting must occur aloud, in alphabetical order, with all members present participating. (Exceptions: Members with a conflict of interest are barred from voting, and the board may excuse a member from voting for good cause.) If the board has adopted an electronic-participation policy, board members participating remotely are considered present and may cast votes.

Board legislative action is expressed as a policy or a resolution. Thereafter, a board employs leadership, usually a superintendent, and monitors the leadership’s implementation of those policies, both by approving reports or recommendations made by the leadership pursuant to board policy and by issuing directives such as requests for information, calls for attention to certain urgent matters or statements of the board’s highest priorities.

When it comes to the board’s quasi-judicial duties, such as holding hearings on student expulsions or employee terminations, the most important concept for good boardsmanship is impartiality. Students and employees appearing before the board in such situations have a right to a fair hearing before unbiased decision-makers. To prevent bias, the law presumes that the role of prosecutor and judge remain separate as much as possible. To act as a fair judge, a board member needs to maintain distance from the investigation and prosecution of the case. Keeping this distance can be very difficult, especially for high-profile incidents. Board members want to know details as they unfold, both from a natural desire to be able to answer the public’s questions and from a sense of responsibility to ensure the matter is handled properly. Nevertheless, it is essential that boards rely upon their employees and attorney to conduct the investigation so that the board’s ultimate action on the matter can remain unbiased and above reproach.


Structure of Boards

Boards are made up of five, six or seven members. The members may be elected at-large, by director districts or by a combination of the two, depending on the school district’s plan of representation. After each odd-year election, a board’s secretary calls a special meeting of the board, called the board’s organizational meeting, for the purpose of electing board officers. (See table on page 6 for the highlights of each board officer position.) Board members sometimes question whether it is their responsibility to represent the director district in which they reside or the interests of the school district as a whole. The director-district plan of representation provides an opportunity for one member to become familiar with the problems and issues in a particular area. This person may assume responsibility for seeing that the special concerns of the people in the director district are brought to the attention of the board. However, each member should bear in mind that he or she has been elected to represent the interests of all students and citizens of the district. When the time comes for voting and making decisions, the individual serves as a member of the board and has a responsibility to reflect the best interests of the whole district.


Board Decisions

There was a time when many felt that all decisions of a board should be unanimous. However, experience has revealed that school districts can function effectively and efficiently even when a board arrives at a decision through a split vote. In some cases, when controversial issues are before a board for consideration, the healthy discussion and debate that surrounds an issue may lead to a better board decision. It also lets the community and staff members know that the board considered all viewpoints and information before making its decision.

As a matter of ethical practice, board members should be prepared to accept decisions made by a majority vote. It is destructive for members who disagree with a majority decision to use the issue to promote community unrest and dissension. People who are sincerely interested in the welfare of the district can disagree on issues without destroying their capacity to work together if ethical practices are observed. When personal difficulties between members arise, it may be wise to attempt to work out the problems in frank personal discussion. Board members should treat each other’s opinions with respect and courtesy, no matter how much they may disagree on an issue. The most effective board member is usually one who has learned to disagree agreeably and from an informed perspective.

Board President

CHOSEN TERM DUTIES NOTES
Elected by majority of board (may be by secret ballot with the outcome recorded in the meeting’s minutes) 2 years
  • Presides over board meetings
  • Signs contracts
  • Signs official reports of the district
  • Votes on all issues as part of the alphabetical roll call vote required by law
  • On most boards, the president cooperates with the superintendent to build the agenda for board meetings

Board Vice President

Elected by majority of board (may be by secret ballot, with the outcome recorded in the meeting’s minutes) 2 years In the absence or inability of the president, the vice president shall have and perform all of the powers and duties of the president

Secretary

Appointed by the board

Assistant Secretary: Same appointment process, term of service, duties and notes of the secretary. The law permits but does not require boards to have an assistant secretary.

At the pleasure of the board
  • Notifies each board member of all special meetings
  • Keeps and preserves minutes of each meeting
  • Publishes and posts all notices of election, as required by law
  • Acts as custodian of the district seal
  • Attests any written contract to which the district may be a party when the contract has been authorized by the board, and affixes the seal thereto
  • Performs other duties as assigned by the board
  • One person can hold the position of secretary and treasurer simultaneously
  • May or may not be a member of the board
  • May be compensated for service in the amount determined by the board

Treasurer

Appointed by the board

Assistant Treasurer: Same appointment process, term of service, duties and notes of the treasurer. The law permits but does not require boards to have an assistant treasurer.

At the pleasure of the board
  • Accounts for all money belonging to the district, or coming into its possession and reports thereof when required by the board
  • Signs, in writing or by facsimile, all warrants, orders or by checks drawn in payment of the lawfully incurred and properly authorized obligations of the district
  • Bears legal responsibility for administering receipts and disbursements and taking care of accounting processes
  • Performs other duties as assigned by the board
  • One person can hold the position of secretary and treasurer simultaneously
  • May or may not be a member of the board
  • May be compensated for service in the amount determined by the board
  • In the absence or inability of the treasurer, the assistant treasurer or a board officer designated by the president (if there is no assistant treasurer or other custodians appointed by the board) shall perform the duties of the treasurer

 

Filling Vacant Seats on a Board

To fill a vacant board seat between elections, a board first adopts a resolution declaring a vacancy. A board has 60 days to appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy. If a board fails to appoint within this 60-day period, the board president is required to make the appointment.

The appointment must be noted by an appropriate entry in the minutes of the meeting, and the board must cause a “certificate of appointment” to be delivered to the person appointed. A duplicate of the certificate of appointment must also be forwarded to the Colorado Department of Education.

The law says nothing about how boards should seek out candidates for appointment or what kinds of notice the district must provide to the community before making the appointment. However, the law does state that board discussions “concerning ... the appointment of a person to fill [a board vacancy]” are not “personnel matters” for purposes of entering executive session, and voting on candidate appointments must follow a board’s normal procedure – a board cannot appoint a new member by secret ballot.

A Seat is Deemed Vacant

  • No one is elected to serve
  • The person elected or appointed fails to take the oath of office as prescribed by law
  • A member is removed from office by a court of competent jurisdiction
  • A member submits a letter of resignation and the board accepts it
  • A member is convicted of a felony
  • A member fails to attend three consecutive regular school board meetings unless the board, by resolution, approves additional absences or unless the member is absent due to temporary mental or physical disability or illness
  • A member moves and no longer resides in the school district or director district from which he or she was elected
  • A member dies during the term of office

Seeking Great Candidates

To maximize the chance of finding great candidates and minimize the risk of public relations trouble, the appointment process should be open and transparent. Prominently include information in district communications about how to apply, publish the board’s resolution declaring a vacancy in local newspapers and make the application process as simple as possible. Interview candidates publicly, read their written submissions carefully and be sure to publicly commend every applicant for his or her interest.