Your primary job as a board trustee is not to manage the School Board, but to “govern” it.
Governance is the system by which the School Board is directed and controlled.
Governing means directing and controlling – setting the strategic direction of the School Board (through the plan and budget), and then being confident that the School Board is moving in that direction (by monitoring and evaluating results.)
You might find it helpful to think of governance using economic “principal agent theory”.
“Principals” are the people who decide why we have a School Board. When we talk about principals in the context of principal agent theory, we are not talking about school principals. The principals in principal agent theory are stakeholders such as the Government and students, as well as our district communities and public. “Agents” are the people who decide how we do things. They are the Director of Education, teachers and administrators.
Principals want to get more results (outcomes) for less resources (the money, people and things used by the School Board); agents have many ideas that use up resources (see graphic).
Your job as the board of trustees is to find the right balance among them – to set the right level of resources (by approving the budget) and the right level or range or outcomes (by approving the strategic plan).
As the board our role is to make sure that resources are used in the best way possible by the agents in order to meet the needs of the principals. Sometimes this means feeling like we are stuck in middle of these two groups – a little like a referee. That is the nature of governance and the role of the board: to be an independent voice and decision-maker.
The main benefit to effective governance is, by providing an effective means of strategic oversight, modern school boards are able to coax the most out of limited budgets in order to maximize student outcomes.
These leads us to the main principles of governance:
- independence: in order to be effective, you should be able to think and act independently of the administration, and of any single stakeholder group—even the people who elected you; the governance system is distinct from the day to day operational system;
- stewardship: you should be a faithful steward of resources that belong to other people, and benefit other people;
- empowerment: you should govern the School Board, and empower the Director of Education to manage its day to day affairs;
- accountability: you should expect to hold the Director of Education accountable for the things you delegated them authority for; just as the Province expects to hold you accountable for local governance it has delegated to you;
- fairness: you should consider the interests of all principals and stakeholders, and govern in a fair and equitable way;
- transparency: you should be clear and open about the School Board’s governance arrangements.
Board governance has changed a lot in recent years. There are some important and helpful trends that will serve you and your School Board well now and in the years to come that you will want to consider and practice. They are to be more:
- active than passive; more proactive than reactive: define and delegate rather than react and ratify;
- strategic than operational; oversee don’t do: set and monitor parameters through policy;
- open than closed: open to dissenting voices and different ideas;
- objective than subjective: monitor the Director’s performance against clear, agreed upon expectations and criteria;
- inquisitive than intrusive: ask tough questions to better understand, as long as these are constructive and positive: form a linkage with management that is both empowering and safe;
- team oriented than individualistic: the board acts as a collective, not as individuals: you are part of a team that acts together; the Director reports to the board as a whole.