Closing Board Meetings by 10 P.M. by DONNA CLEMENT

The school board meeting finally ended. It’s 12:30 a.m. You shake your head and vow, “This is not going to happen again.”

How can a superintendent keep a board of education meeting on track? What are the tricks?

Here are suggestions that I raise whenever I talk to local board members about serving their roles efficiently and effectively.

* Get the board to agree on a goal of no wasted time.
At your annual retreat, get buy-in from board members for meetings to stay on time and on track. Establish a routine in which the board president addresses each member before each meeting and asks: “Do you approve of these agenda items?” and “Do you have other items to add to this agenda?” After all have approved the agenda, the meeting begins.

What if an item not on the agenda arises during the meeting? The superintendent, the president or the board secretary can establish a “parking lot”—a list of items to be discussed at another time. That way the items are not lost or forgotten. And the person who brought the item up feels the board has recognized the issue.

* Prepare your board for the meeting.
Mail your board packet so members receive it at least two days in advance. Indicate why each piece of information is included. You can use a cover letter, sticky notes or notations on each item. Tell if the item pertains to information that will be discussed or if it is strictly FYI. Rank order the information so the most important items are read first.

* Be specific in your agenda.
When an agenda is a list of nouns, your meeting can easily go wayward. If technology is on your agenda, board members could easily digress into myriad subtopics.

The more specific you are with your items, the better. Also state whether each item is a point of information, discussion, decision, committee report or presentation by a group or individual.

* State the time allotted for each item.
All presenters and topics are given a time frame on the agenda. If necessary, appoint a staff member to serve as timekeeper. If more time is needed for the item, a motion must be made to extend the time. Time may be taken from other items to keep the meeting on track.

* Anticipate questions.
Brainstorm possible questions triggered by each agenda item. Have the facts available or the people who have the answers. That way an issue can be completed in one meeting.

Board Efficiencies
Your board president can help keep meetings efficient by making sure a motion is on the table before any discussion takes place and by doing the following:

* Recognize first those members who have not spoken to a motion.
Recognizing someone who has not yet spoken is not only common courtesy, it gives the board president a way to interrupt a back-and-forth discussion between two members of the board.

* Establish the rule of two.
Allow each board member to speak to a motion only twice on the same day. Board members learn to collect their thoughts before beginning to speak and consider all the points they wish to make once they have the floor.

* Refer a motion rather than amend it.
Much time is wasted crafting specific wording for amendments. Sometimes points need to be clarified before members are prepared to vote on a motion. To refer a motion, give the who, why and when. “I refer the motion to the superintendent to investigate the long-range financial implications of the motion and report on the findings at the next meeting.” This way everyone is clear what is expected before the board resumes discussion of the motion.

* Summarize after each agenda item.
A good board president will summarize each accomplishment before proceeding to the next item. Summaries make sure all members have the same understanding of what transpired. Any misunderstandings can be addressed at this point.

* Issue clear, well-written meeting minutes.
The standard for meeting minutes is a one- to two-week turnaround. The format used determines whether anyone reads them. The detailed, who-said-what minutes are needed as public record. Most people do not read them.

Instead, list the agenda item, then a summary of the discussion followed by the action taken or to be taken.

By using summaries and bullet points, you and your board will be more aware of what was accomplished at each meeting. Also, if you need to refer to previous minutes, it is quicker and faster to find the information.

Donna Clement is leadership development manager with the New York State School Board Association, 24 Century Hill Drive, Suite 200, Latham, N.Y. 12210. E-mail: She acknowledges the help of Robert Gibson, board president of Questar III BOCES.