It is that time of year when newly elected board of education members are settling in to their positions and starting to assume responsibility for overseeing their respective municipality’s public school district. To help ease the process, recently elected school board members should take the time to become familiar with the following:
• Board bylaws for your district (usually found in the 9000 series of the board’s policy manual), particularly those bylaws addressing meetings, conflicts of interest, staff communication, use of e-mail.
• Current board policies (often available on the board of education’s website), particularly those policies concerning student expulsion, the Superintendent of Schools, confidentiality of education records, the budget system and curriculum.
• The Freedom of Information Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-200 et. seq. (available here: http://www.ct.gov/foi/cwp/view.asp?a=4161&Q=488540&foiNav=%7C
• Parliamentary procedure, such as is found in Roberts Rules of Order.
The board’s bylaws and policies are the “law” of your district. Although bylaws and policies tend to be similar from one district to another, each school district has a unique culture and that often finds expression in the board’s policies.
The Freedom of Information Act, or “FOIA,” is the state law that ensures that public agencies, including boards of education, conduct business in an open an transparent manner, providing adequate notice of and access to meetings as well as access to public records and information. Mark J. Sommaruga, of Pullman & Comley’s School Law Section, has written Understanding the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act and Access to Public Meetings and Records (4th Edition 2013), a comprehensive, informative and accessible guide to the FOIA, which is published by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and can be ordered directly from its website: http://www.cabe.org/page.cfm?p=750 .
In addition to gaining an awareness of the various FOIA provisions that apply to board meetings, developing an understanding of the basic rules of parliamentary procedure will help new board members acclimate to the way in which board meetings are conducted.
When it comes to the substance of being a school board member, there are few challenges more daunting than assembling and approving the annual budget, and perhaps the most significant component of the budget are the salaries and benefits of district staff. It is, therefore, important to have an understanding of at least the general aspects of the process that determines these salaries and benefits.
In a nutshell, the majority of a board of education’s employees are represented by unions. The negotiation process for certified employees – teachers and administrators— is governed by the Teacher Negotiation Act or “TNA”. Most of the non-certified employees of a board of education, such as secretaries, custodians, maintenance staff, nurses, paraprofessionals, and food services personnel also have the right to organize. Negotiations with the non-certified bargaining units are governed by the Municipal Employees Relations Act or “MERA.” These laws set forth the process for the board and its unions to negotiate their collective bargaining agreements. The basic differences between these two laws can be summarized as follows:
|Employees covered||Certified staff – teachers and administrators||Non-certified staff – secretaries, custodians, maintenance, nurses, paraprofessionals, food services|
|Timelines||210 days before the budget submission date||120 days before the expiration of the contract|
|Waiver of timelines||Cannot be waived by parties||Can be waived upon agreement|
|Board must “meet and confer” with fiscal authority 30 days before negotiations start||Not required|
|A municipal representative may observe the negotiations||Not required|
ability to reject
|Board of Selectmen/Council may reject agreed- upon contract within 30 days of filing||Municipality cannot reject contract reached by agreement of the parties|
|Mediation||Required, takes place 160 days before budget submission date. List of mediators maintained by the State Department of Education||Not required but available through the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration (SBMA)|
|Negotiated agreement||Must be filed with Town Clerk for 30 days before final||Considered final upon ratification by union and approval by the board|
|Stipulated arbitration award||Parties may agree to stipulated award||No stipulated awards|