As communities grow, school districts grow too. As a result, more and more districts want to ensure their school boards follow sound ethical principles. Interestingly, for school districts who survey their district patrons, many parents and taxpayers in the district want to do their best with school board ethics and decision making.
There is a fine line between school board duties and becoming an overly intrusive board member. School board members need documented policies, guidelines and formal training to make sure they don’t cross a line.
There are some common culprits that impact school board ethics. Many issues that boards discuss are heated, and that divisiveness is reflected in the vote. A board member may vote against an issue that ultimately passes by a majority of votes. The board member really needs to avoid creating further strife. Accept the vote and move on. Board members should not openly criticize those board members who voted in favor of the measure. Be sure to represent a united front.
School boards are notorious for creating conflicts of interest. For example, the school board member’s brother is just awarded a lucrative services contract, or the school board member’s parents are given exclusive rights to provide landscaping to the schools. These are clear conflicts of interest that should always be avoided. Not only do they undermine your personal and professional credibility as a board member, they also erode the board’s and district’s reputations as a whole.
Most districts have clear policies regarding financial disclosures and school board members should take great care to comply with these rules.
There are certainly more subtle conflicts of interest that may not be readily apparent. That’s what school board training is for. Many states have developed suggested codes of conduct for all state school boards. While not mandatory, those districts that do adopt the guidelines usually perform better without so much internal strife.
Many board members have children in the school district. In fact, having children who attend the schools is often a primary motivator for the person’s school board service. However, school board members need to play the appropriate role when dealing with issues involving their own children. Be sure to wear the “parent hat” when you are working with your child’s school. Don’t compromise school board ethics by pushing your weight around as a school board member.
For this reason, most school boards have codes of conduct that prohibit too much power in the hands of individual board members. Most boards only have the authority to act as a group. Their responsibilities are high level policy rather than getting into the weeds of the day-to-day operations.
Speaking of wearing the right hat, many superintendents have had an experience where a meddling board would not delegate the proper authority to the superintendent. So boards, you do your job and let your superintendents do theirs!
District patrons pay attention to school board members and their behavior. Proper school board ethics are critical to a district’s success. On the other hand, improper school board ethics will likely play a major role in a district’s failure.
Your school board must prepare to ensure that ethics violations don’t happen. For those boards that are unprepared, ethics issues are divisive and disruptive to your overall mission to improve your schools.
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