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Chapter 7

Doing Your Homework


7:1 Is it important that I know every policy in the district's policy book?

One of your school board’s most important functions is policymaking. Through policy, the board sets goals for the entire school system and provides directives for administrators and other staff to follow while working toward achieving these goals. Policymaking is a continuous process; it doesn’t end once a policy decision is made. Your school board should review its policies on a regular basis. As a new board member, you will want to become familiar with your district’s policies and, in particular, the policies that cover board operations and administration.

As a member of the WASB, your district can access policy development materials and other Policy Services resources on the WASB website. Sample policies from other Wisconsin school districts and other information on policy topics are available upon request as well.

Use the WASB Policy Perspectives newsletter and the electronic Legal and Policy Services newsletter as well as the WASB publication The FOCUS, if your district is a subscriber, to stay on top of law changes affecting district policies and “hot policy topics.” If your district subscribes to the WASB’s web-based policy tool, the Policy Resource Guide (PRG), you have direct access to background information, sample model policies, and other related resources on specific policy topics as well as recorded WASB legal webinars.

7:2 How can I build my skills and knowledge to become a better board member?

First, become knowledgeable about your district, from its policies to its budget.

Second, engage in professional development. From school law and policy to community relations and strategic planning, there’s a WASB program, presentation or resource available that can improve the knowledge and skills of school board members, administrators and other employees in your school district.

Some of the best board training often happens with individual boards on topics customized to meet their needs. With the WASB’s cadre of experienced school attorneys and consultants, we’re able to provide a wide spectrum of board governance training. If needed, we can blend legal and governance topics into a single, tailored workshop with an attorney and a governance consultant participating.

Avail yourself of the WASB resources. In addition to the policy resources listed above, the WASB sends out legal and legislative updates to all members through the Legal and Policy Services newsletter and the Legislative Update newsletter. The association also publishes an award-winning magazine, the Wisconsin School News, which includes information about a wide range of topics. In addition, there are numerous other legal publications as well as a wide range of resources on the WASB website.

Third, watch and listen to your colleagues.

7:3 Is board development mandatory?

No. However, research has demonstrated that “effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. High-achieving districts have formal, deliberate training for new board members. They also often gather to discuss specific topics. Low-achieving districts have board members who said they did not learn together except when the superintendent or other staff members made presentations of data. (Lighthouse I; LFA; LaRocque and Coleman)” (See Center for Public Education – Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards, 2019.)

In recognition of the importance of professional development, the WASB awards points to board members who participate in WASB activities through the Member Recognition Program. Each August, the WASB sends out a Member Recognition Report, which reflects WASB programs attended for that year and the total accumulated points. Board members who attain certain levels in the Member Recognition Program receive pins and certificates at their Regional Meeting that fall.

7:4 Do I pay for these programs or does the district?

Most of the time the district pays for the board development. It is legal and appropriate for the district to pay for board members’ attendance at conventions, conferences, workshops, webinars and other developmental events that enhance the board’s knowledge and ability to do the district’s business. Payment must be authorized by a board resolution adopted prior to attendance or the board may delegate authorization to an executive officer. Because leaders are learners, it is prudent to include funds for board leadership training in the annual budget.

7:5 What services does the WASB offer?

The WASB team of experts range in skills from advocacy, leadership development and board governance, legal, policy and communications. Review the WASB At Your Service brochure for an overview of services and products. The WASB can customize a response to a district’s unique needs and requirements.

7:6 How do I manage the volume of reading that I have as a school board member?

Becoming a school board member is similar to going back to school in that there are continuing education courses available and there is “homework” you will have to prepare for board meetings. You’ll have a lot of reading to be fully prepared to discuss and vote on issues.

As every student learns, don’t wait until the last minute to do your homework. If you find you don’t have enough time to review materials prior to your board meetings, ask if it’s possible to get materials earlier. You’ll find as you become more experienced that the material becomes more manageable and easier to absorb.

7:7 Where can I get comparative information relative to other schools?

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides a wide array of statewide student data through its WISEdash platform. This encompasses everything from the school district’s report card to demographic data. The site includes guides, videos and other resources to learn how to use the platform.

The U.S. Department of Education also has a wide array of data available for review. In addition, the WASB provides employee compensation and employee handbook information.

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