School Administrators at Board Meetings: Who, When, and Why

Vol. 13 No. 2

trustees eletter vol13 no2 meetinginvite

Overheard between one Trustee and another in the school parking lot after a contentious Board meeting:

“Why does the School Head keep bringing an assortment of Management Team members to our meetings? It sure throws a monkey wrench into some of our discussions. It just says to me that the Head doesn’t know what’s going on in the school. Without other administrators’ input, she can’t answer our questions.
“I don’t even understand why the Head herself is always at the meetings. There are many times when I just want to have discussions with the other members of the Board, without the Head or any other staff members hanging around.
“The more I think about this, the unhappier I get. I think I’m going to pull together a resolution for our next meeting.”

As Board President, what would you say to this Trustee? Should school administrators besides the School Head routinely—or ever—attend Board meetings? Are there times when the Board ought to meet without the School Head? Don’t allow these seemingly small questions to become issues of contention. Put the following guidelines, observations, and recommendations to work.

  • Be clear about the integrity of the relationship between the Board and the School Head. Your Board should never meet without the Head present unless the agenda is the Head’s performance and compensation. The Board and the Head are critical to each other’s success. They operate as a team.
  • Boards have but one employee. That is the School Head. If anyone else on staff comes to a Board meeting, that must always be the Head’s decision.
  • Having the Development Director and the Business Manager regularly attend meetings may, however, be worth considering. As Board President, ask your Head how he or she feels about that idea. These two administrators are directly involved in those areas in which a Board tends to focus most of its efforts: fundraising, major gifts, marketing, finance, personnel policies, buildings and grounds, and support services.

    The Development Director needs to be on a first-name basis with all Board members, and vice versa, to further the major gifts and other funding programs. The Business Manager has depth of information regarding the intricacies of institutional finance, property, and facilities, which can be tapped fully only if that person is present regularly.

  • If the Head accepts this idea, emphasize to the Board that the Development Director and Business Manager are to be viewed by Trustees as resources at the meetings. They are present to assist the Head and to respond to specific circumstances that relate to their areas. Their seating at the meetings should reflect that status; they should be part of an “outer circle” of chairs rather than at the Board table itself or “inner circle.” It should be understood that their presence is at the pleasure of the Head. On occasion, it will be necessary to ask them to leave so that the Board and Head can explore sensitive issues.
  • These two administrators will be able to help the Head develop strategies in approaching the Board on particular matters, once they have become regular participants at meetings. Their analysis of the outcome of some meetings can provide needed perspective for the Head, especially concerning the meaning of statements made by individual members.
  • As Board President, you should remain alert to the danger of an overly close link between these second-level administrators and your Board. Periodically remind the Board members of this danger, making clear several times during your annual cycle that the Board has but one employee; everyone else on staff, including the Development Director and Business Manager, is employed by the School Head. Any directives from the Board pertaining to development, finance, or facilities should be worded carefully so that it is clear the directive is to the Head, not to the Head’s staff.
  • If there is another member of the Management Team who is especially critical to the school’s strategic path, you and your School Head may wish to discuss adding that individual to this two-person unit. However, the general rule of thumb should be for the Head to invite other senior administrators only when their presence is clearly required by a particular Board agenda item.
  • Senior administrators other than the Development Director and Business Manager may also be invited to Board meetings on a rotating basis. Attending several Board meetings annually will educate them about the Board’s structure, function, and purpose. This background can also be valuable to administrators who may at some point entertain thoughts of becoming a School Head.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Trustees Vol. 12 No. 2 Board Meetings: Expectations
ISM Monthly Update for Trustees Vol. 11 No. 7 Ten Essential Rules for Productive Meetings

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 37 No. 5 Chart the Attendance at Board and Committee Meetings
I&P Vol. 35 No. 5 The Board Policy Manual

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