At its organizational meeting, a school board seats new board members and approves procedures for conducting business in all the meetings in the coming year(s) – specifying everything from the meeting place and time to the agenda format, public participation rules and board committee procedures. Technology helps a school board keep the most useful possible minutes of the crucial organizational meeting.
What Makes Organizational Meeting Minutes Effective?
Because they create not only a legal record, but also an authoritative reference manual, organizational minutes must be useful in situations that require clarification of protocol. One such situation arises in the course of regularly scheduled meetings, if someone wants to change the procedures. The other is when journalists, researchers or lawyers need to look up the rules that other meetings were expected to follow.
In the first case, members of the public may question the ground rules. An irritated citizen might interject: “This is a democracy! I should be able to stand up if I have comments in the middle of someone’s presentation.” Other constituents may want to challenge the scheduling of the following meeting, as it conflicts with a high school football game. To be useful in that moment, the organizational meeting minutes need to be thorough, accurate and accessible to the public – especially if the board does not publish a separate policies manual.
Without the minutes acting as referee, the entire meeting could be derailed by such questions.
Imagine trying to play Monopoly if one player wanted railroad holdings to confer exemption from any taxes that are charged through Chance or Community Chest. Until all the players could agree on the rules, nobody could play the game. If the game still had the rules manual in the box, the matter could be settled and then everybody could get on with the game. The minutes of the organizational meeting are the “rules manual.” They are useful if they are easily accessible, with complete and accurate elucidation of exactly what policies were approved in the organizational meeting.
Journalists and lawyers also refer to organizational meeting minutes when they are checking if regular meetings complied with the school board’s own rules – and if those rules sufficiently mirrored the legal standards applying to meetings (such as handicap accessibility requirements and sunshine laws). To be useful in that circumstance, the minutes of the organizational meeting also need to be accessible, accurate and complete.
The standards pertaining to these minutes, then, are higher than those governing the minutes of ordinary meetings. The right technology offers tools that make those minutes maximally effective: a public-facing website, state-of-the-art security, archival document storage, embedded video, and instruments for cross-referencing and searching across files.
- A public-facing website. School boards need not only the board, but also the public, to be able to find meeting procedures. Ideally, attendees would come to meetings having read them. To that end, an online presence is essential. Americans spend hours a day online. Why not meet them where they live? In the worst-case scenario, the board chair could pull documents up with a moment’s notice during the meeting if a constituent challenges procedures.
An internet presence also makes it possible for later researchers anywhere in the world to find the rules. Indeed, states are slowly changing legislation to require public records to be stored somewhere online. Nothing says “transparency” quite like voluntary positioning of records in a place far easier to access than a local public library.
- Interactivity. If the internet location can “receive” material from readers, the minutes become all the more useful. Why? It makes it more likely that names will be spelled correctly. When members of the public speak in the meeting, it may be impossible to track them down subsequently to get the correct spelling of their names. If the speakers complete and return an online registration form before speaking at the organizational meeting, the secretary gets a first-hand, typed (i.e., legible) spelling to which to refer. Historians and journalists five years from now will thank you copiously. The speaker can also state on the form the exact topic to be addressed – which might be hard to ascertain if the oration strays.
- State-of-the-art security. The danger with an internet presence is exposure to savvy programmers who are also bad actors. The organizational meeting minutes are sure to contain information they could use to hack into the system to hijack data for the purpose of committing identity theft or demanding a ransom. For instance, they might use the names of newly elected officers to identify targets in a phishing scam; a simple click on a planted e-mail to an officer could grant access to the entire district network’s trove of data.
That requirement rules out any popular file-sharing sites or free internet site providers. Full cyberprotection takes full, robust 256-bit encryption and storage of data on a secure cloud-based private server – not on “the cloud” itself. Such security is available only on top-quality board portals.
- Archival storage. The best board portal software provides not only secure storage, but room to store the minutes year after year. In so doing, a board creates complete records that comply with public records laws. A key feature of such software is unlimited storage. Comprehensive district documents (e.g., maps, budgets, legislation, policies) take many megabytes of storage space! Cheaper software will charge for storage over a specified limit.
- Linking and searching capacity. To anyone planning to attend the meeting – and also to a future researcher – nothing helps more than a full paper trail (as opposed to simple references to documents on an agenda). Organizational meeting minutes thus become far more useful if the secretary can link item in the minutes to the documents that inform the topic. (Such links can also appear on every agenda all year round, so constituents who do not receive the board packet can still do preparatory reading before meetings.) Some archives make such quick links simple to establish. They even make it possible to conduct a meta-search of all the files stored in the archive, not only the minutes of the organizational meeting.
- Embedded video. What if audio-visual footage of the meeting could be stored alongside the minutes? The minutes would become more useful still. For one thing, the secretary would not be frantically trying to jot down every word during the meeting, focusing only on the outcomes of votes. What’s more, having footage available empowers the recording secretary to replay the moments when motions were made. Getting the exact wording of motions is a responsibility that is otherwise hard to fulfill, but it is necessary when creating a public record.
The minutes of the organizational meeting set the ground rules for every other meeting. To be effective, they need to be accurate, accessible and searchable. Technology makes that easy. Board members, attending constituents and future researchers will all thank you for getting the right software that makes the minutes 100% user-friendly.