Remedies for a ‘Fractured’ Board

Vol. 14 No. 2

trustees eletter vol14 no2 brokentrust

When a Board’s internal problems keep it from moving forward in its responsibilities to the school, the Board President and Trustee leadership must act. The various forms of a “fractured” Board are often caused by members who bring their own agendas, have a bureaucratic mind-set, or focus on their own children’s issues rather than on the best interests of all students.

As the Board President, ask yourself and your Board-leadership colleagues the following series of questions. These will help you identify the problem areas that cause a fractured Board, and offer remedies to keep your school moving forward.

  1. Do you have a planning document (strategic or long-range plan)? If not, expect strong-minded individuals to control every Board meeting. If there is no organizational plan, dominant individuals will develop their own plans and become outspoken advocates for them.
  2. Do you “profile” your Board, based on our strategic or long-range plan? Do you explain to each new Trustee the expectations concerning the plan’s fulfillment? If not, expect Trustees to decide for themselves what their roles should be, and to work to fulfill those self-defined roles, regardless of the direction the Board may have set.
  3. Do you prepare an annual Board agenda from which your committee charges are drawn? Do you structure each full-Board meeting around an action proposal submitted by one of the committees? If not, expect your meetings to be dominated by sleep-inducing committee and administrative reports.
  4. Does your new-Trustee orientation teach new members what responsible Board membership looks like, both internally (in Board meetings) and externally (with constituents)? If not, expect well-intended blunders and indiscretions to begin immediately and continue unchecked, forcing your Committee on Trustees to intervene.
  5. Do you have an annual Board retreat to focus on your Board-level purposes, procedures, and methods? If not, expect confusion all year long, even among individuals who are not “problem members.”
  6. Do you have a Head Support and Evaluation Committee to which you can refer “current events” questions and issues that may arise in full-Board meetings? If not, expect those Trustees who lobby for their own children’s benefits to continue to dominate any full-Board agenda.
  7. Do you use surveys to collect data annually from your parent body? If not, expect to have difficulty providing evidence in opposition to a vocal minority of parents who insist that insists the Board doesn’t face the “real issues.”
  8. Do your bylaws allow for the removal of individual Trustees through proper organizational channels? If not, expect astute but renegade Trustees to maneuver with complete confidence, knowing that they will serve out their full terms no matter what they do.
  9. Does your Committee on Trustees’ nomination process provide for screening prospective Trustees? If not, expect surprises as some Trustees, pleasant and ingratiating during cultivation, unleash their agendas once established as Trustees.
  10. Do you provide in-service education for your Trustees? If not, expect Trustees to forget what they learned in the orientation session, and to revert to whatever behaviors and agendas they would have created for themselves without training and education.
  11. Is there an annual Board evaluation rooted in your strategic plan and annual agenda? Does your process include input from the School Head about Board performance? If not, expect your Board to sail along uncritically, with members reinforcing one another for approaches and behaviors that do not advance the school’s agenda.
  12. Does your Board President meet with each Trustee each year individually to understand that member’s agenda? Does the President use that meeting as an opportunity to communicate in private the Board’s agenda? If not, expect some Trustees, including even the most well-intentioned, to drift off-target as the year goes on.
  13. Does the Committee on Trustees conduct exit interviews with each member who rotates off the Board? If not, expect, as leaders, to continue to make the same mistakes as the years pass, never fully understanding the impact of leadership decisions on the mission-focused quality of individual Trustees.

Once you identify the causes of your fractured Board and the suitable remediation, make these strategies part of your annual Board review and planning processes. Don’t compromise your Board’s forward momentum as you strive to build the school’s future.

Additional ISM resources:
Quick Tip Podcast: Preparing for Your Next Board Meeting: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility
The Source for Trustees
Vol. 12 No. 6 The Board’s Two Primary Responsibilities
The Source for Trustees Vol. 12 No. 7 Other Key Responsibilities of the Board

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 33 No. 12 Board Leadership: ISM Research Report
I&P Vol. 29 No. 12 Board Profiling: A Structured Approach
I&P Vol. 39 No. 1 Terms for Board Members and Officers

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