Informed Board Decision Making

Informed Board Decision Making

 

As publicly elected representatives, the primary responsibility of boards of education/school boards is to improve student achievement in their communities. They reflect the education priorities and unique requirements of these communities by establishing policies, bylaws, district-wide plans and annual budgets. Throughout its term a board will be faced with many issues requiring informed decisions. The Superintendent/CEO, with the support of other senior staff, is usually the primary resource providing the board with a concise description of the issue at hand, along with adequate context and data to assist the board’s decision making process.

The following template is intended as a guide to articulating for the board the key elements and information related to issues requiring its decision. It was developed by Dr. Lee Southern and Dr. Stephen Hansen, previous Executive Directors of the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) based on their twenty plus years of supporting the work of public boards of education/school boards. We are also grateful for the guidance we received from leading trustees.

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BOARD MAJOR ISSUE TEMPLATE

The purpose of this template is to provide boards of education with a collection of relevant information required to deliberate and decide upon a course of action on any subject matter deemed of high importance by either the board or the superintendent.

ISSUE:

An issue can be variously described as a current problem to be addressed, a new policy to be developed, a new initiative to be pursued, a necessary response to a ministry directive, and so forth.

Defining the issue is a critical element because its definition must be written in a way that precludes unduly restricting the range of possible responses but rather opens the subject to a reasonable range of realistic courses of action. The description should be concise, factual, and neutral on the merits of the issue and any potential responses.

Framing the issue within a straightforward question is a pragmatic way to define what it is that the board must address. For example: “Should the school district’s grade configuration be changed?”

 

ISSUE RATIONALE:

Why does this issue require board attention (as opposed to another decision-maker)?

Why does this issue require attention now (including the consequences if it is not addressed)?

What makes this an issue of significant importance?

 

ISSUE CONTEXT:

A concise description of the issue context includes a brief history of its origin, subsequent developments and any related board decisions, policies and bylaws.

 

 ACTION OPTIONS:

What courses of action are available to the board?

These options must include the intended effect of the action including: the direct or indirect effect on student achievement; the key elements of the actions identifying in particular what subsequent decisions will be required by both the superintendent and the board; and, the possible consequences of each option stated in objective terms- i.e. not described as pros or cons as those judgments belong to board not the superintendent and include how the action will affect each interested party and their likely reaction to it.

Some questions to consider in describing each option:

  • Potential impacts on students, staff, parents, community
  • Financial implications
  • Policy and legal implications
  • Operational implications such as timing, impact on other initiatives, infrastructure, etc.
  • A summary of actions other boards have taken on the issue

 

SUPERINTENDENT INPUT:

This section is designed to allow the superintendent to provide education and administrative input on the issue.  As the chief education and administrative leader of the district the superintendent will have unique perspectives on the issue. Care should be taken to provide this information in a transparent, accountable and non-political way. While it is critical for the board to make a decision based on the best advice of the superintendent, the decision is ultimately the board’s to make – and to own. While the board may at some point ask the superintendent for a recommendation, a balance must be found between providing the board with the best information available versus reducing the board’s responsibility to make and own the decision.

 

INPUT FROM OTHERS

The above Actions Options section should include a description of the potential impacts of each option on students, parents, staff and any other key groups.  This section describes any actions that either already have or will be taken to gather input from these groups on the issue. A brief summary of any input received to date should appear here. More detail can be provided in the appendices as needed.

 

FINANCIAL PLAN/FRAMEWORK IMPLICATIONS

As a body of publicly elected representatives, a board of education/school board is mandated to use public money in ways that most effectively and efficiently support its key work of improving student learning success. Each board should have developed a financial plan/framework that clearly explains how public dollars are allocated in relation to its particular objectives. Accordingly, whenever major issue or policy decision is to be made it is imperative that its main financial consequences be clearly articulated, including any present and future impact they may have on existing elements of the financial framework.

 

ISSUE ACTION SUCCESS MEASURES:

How will the board know if its decision(s) are successful?

Actions are successful in the degree to which they achieve their intended effect.

 

GENERAL COMMENTS/REFERENCE/DOCUMENTATION:

As much as reasonably possible detailed data – statistics, research references, and other supplementary information should be relegated to appendices. The superintendent should attempt to keep the template to no more than two to five pages.

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