The minutes of school board meetings become historical records. Historical records must be abundantly clear and precise accounts of gatherings that can often veer off course before outbursts or protests, on the one hand, or folksy chitchat, on the other. A good board chair serves as the keeper of the rules so that the school board accomplishes the business on its agenda. A good recording secretary crafts a document that tracks each order of business through prescribed steps for reference months or years later. Robert’s Rules dictate exactly what to include in each section of the minutes.
The first paragraph must include all of the following information:
- What type of meeting was held (annual? special? regular?)
- The organization’s name
- Meeting date, time and location.
- The number of people in attendance and whether they constituted a voting quorum
- A statement that the customary presiding officer and secretary were present – or specification of who substituted in their absence.
- Indication that the previous meeting’s minutes were read and approved. (If they were “approved as corrected,” the corrections will appear in the previous minutes, not in the current meeting minutes.)
The first paragraph can include mention of a scheduled executive session that took place outside the regular meeting. For example, the minutes from a 7:00 PM school board meeting in South Fayette Township (PA) open with the statement: “An executive session was held at 6:00 before the regular meeting.”
Here, Robert’s Rules help the secretary keep his eye on the ball if digressions threaten the business of the meeting. The body covers motions, moves into committee, points of order, reports and accounts of any disorderly conduct:
- Motions. The body of the minutes tracks the fate of each motion that is made (except any that are withdrawn), with these details:
- The name of the person making the motion (but not that of the person seconding it).
- Final wording of the motion.
- The names of those who spoke for and against the motion in debate.
- The fate of the motion: postponed, amended, tabled, referred to committee, ballot vote ordered or voted on
- If it is voted on: the number or yeas and nays
As discussion and debate can be extensive, remember: Minutes record actions, not words. The content of the discussion is not a matter for the school board’s minutes.
- Moves into Committee. The minutes must indicate if:
- Executive session was called within the meeting;
- Any other closed session was called; or
- The board went into committee of the whole. In a committee of the whole, the entire board (or only those interested) can sit as a committee subject to less formal rules for discussion. Some school boards schedule entire separate meetings for a committee of the whole to hash out the fine points of a debate.
The minutes should clarify what measures were taken to make any type of closed session compliant with the state’s sunshine laws. They will indicate whether a vote was required to authorize the executive session or other closed session to discuss sensitive issues like personnel disputes. State law may require public disclosure (in the meeting minutes) of the closed session’s agenda.
The minutes reflect the reports that these committees bring back to the regular meeting. As no decisions can be made in closed sessions or committees of the whole, there will be no votes to record. Minutes of an executive session itself are taken and approved only within the executive session.
- Points of Order, Appeals and Dispositions. Someone who does not have the floor can call a point of order to claim that the meeting is violating the rules of order. The chair decides, in the disposition, if that breach of rules is permitted for particular reasons.
Example: “Mr. Chairman, the speaker’s time limit has expired.” Or “The speaker is not speaking to the motion.” It is crucial to record the Chair’s reasons for each ruling, as it often establishes precedent. In the minutes, for example, the secretary would record: “Aziz Khan called a point of order, that the speaker’s time limit had expired. The Chairman ruled that the extra time was warranted to brief the board on relevant legislation.”
- Committee Reports. Full committee reports must be included only if the school board orders that they be written into the minutes. Usually, minutes only refer to a full report.
Example: “The standards committee submitted its report on ESL scores.”
- Accounts of Disorderly Conduct. If someone threw chairs or yelled obscenities, the exact obscenities and the full account of the events would appear in the minutes. Example: “Mr. Smith said the superintendent ‘didn’t know his head from a hole in the ground,’ after which Mr. Bartley ran toward Mr. Smith with a raised fist.”
- Accounts of Guest Speakers. The board may invite a school security officer, an auditor or an architect to address the board. In that case, minutes should show the name of the speaker and the topic – but no summary of their remarks. Example: “The auditor explained apparent irregularities in the financial records of the previous fiscal year.”
Indicate the time that the meeting adjourned.
The secretary must sign the minutes. Custom dictates whether the board chair also must sign them. The secretary’s signature confirms the authenticity of the minutes for the purpose of the public record.
Indicate Approval Status
Until the members of the school board approve the minutes in the following meeting, they are not yet official. Until that time, the secretary should clearly mark the distribution copy as a “draft for approval.”
Once they are approved in the next meeting, the secretary either retypes the minutes or annotates the draft copy in the margins. Then he writes “Approved” on the minutes, with his initials and the date.
Minutes that follow these guidelines, as determined by Robert’s Rules of Order, constitute concise and responsible public records of the proceedings of the school board. The district can then post them on its web portal for the public to get an accurate account of the business of the board.