What to Do in Cases of Ex Officio Membership

Vol. 16 No. 4

trustees eletter vol16 no4 exofficio

Many Boards have ex officio members—that is, Trustees who hold a position on the Board based on their office within or outside a school. Thus the “term” served is dependent on the years spent in such offices.

Many School Heads hold voting positions on their Boards as long as they are in office. Indeed, it can be flattering to a Head to be given equivalent status, but the two points below are sufficient to make the case against the practice.

  • If a Head’s proposal is debated and eventually resolved by a one-vote margin (with the Head on the winning side), the Head is easily deluded into thinking there is majority support.
  • Because a Head usually serves out a school year even when a contract is not renewed, an awkward lame-duck period worsens when the Head must vote on a successor or on the Head-elect’s policies.

There is a fine line between a vote (expression of opinion) and a statement of position (recommendation based on the likely positive and negative effects of proposed action, as seen by the administration). But the Board is apt to perceive the difference more readily in a nonvoting Head.

ISM recommends that, if the School Head should be an ex officio member, this should be without voting privileges. This assures the Head is entitled to be present at all meetings (except those in which his or her performance and salary are discussed) while avoiding the two problems noted. Besides, the Head’s power is extensive enough without having full voting privileges.

Ex officio membership is often granted to the President of the Parent Association or the President of the Alumni Association. The goal is communication between the given association and the Board. But the contributions from such ex officio members rarely match expectations.

  • Their terms of service are usually shorter than the two years it takes a Trustee to become effective.
  • Often involved in their association work, they may have little time for Board activity.
  • Because they are not selected by the Board, there is no conscious enhancement of the total mix.
  • Communication is usually one way. They don’t take the time to share information about the Board and its challenges with their colleagues.
  • Once one has been privy to the ex officio capacity, he or she often wishes to remain as an elected member. It is an easy way to fill a slot. But, once granted, it is almost an affront not to offer the same opportunity to that person’s successor. It can become a sequence that undermines criteria for selection.

ISM believes communications are better when there are no such ex officio positions. Instead, invite periodic reports at Board (or subcommittee) meetings by one or more people representing the given constituency. These reports can be augmented by input from a Trustee who is responsible for attending association sessions and who acts as liaison. If you feel you must have ex officio members, be sure that bylaws exclude them from voting.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 13 No. 2 School Administrators at Board Meetings: Who, When, and Why
The Source for Trustees Vol. 14 No. 2 Remedies for a ‘Fractured’ Board

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 40 No. 10 The Hazards of ‘Representatives’ at Board Meetings
I&P Vol. 33 No. 10 Ex Officio Board Members
I&P Vol. 32 No. 2 Board Service: A Sample Written Commitment

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