13. Constitution of the Board and Selection of Board Members
The most effective size for a school Board will depend largely on the circumstances of the school. A medium to large sized school that has access to a range of resources might have 10-12 Board Members. In contrast, a smaller school with limited resources may be governed effectively by a Board with significantly fewer members.
It is important to bear in mind that large school Boards provide diversity of skills and views. However, a large number of individuals sitting on the Board may hamper effective decision-making. Such considerations, along with the particular circumstances of the School, should be weighed up when determining the size of the Board.
Generally, school Board Members are not paid for their contribution to the School. However, the demands made on Board Members in the context of schools can be more gruelling than those imposed on paid directors of corporations. Therefore, it is imperative that individuals selected to serve on a school Board demonstrate a high level of commitment to the School and its goals and values.
Because commitment to the School is so important, it is quite common to see current and former parents, donors, former students, and other representatives from stakeholder groups on the School Board.
The School Board can have a skills matrix that sets out the mix of skills and diversity that the Board currently has or is looking to achieve in its membership. This does not have to name individual Board Members or disclose any commercially sensitive information. The skills matrix may help identify the absence or presence of Board Members with the following characteristics:
strong oral and written communication skills
the ability to display initiative and confidence
the ability to establish and develop quality relationships
strong analytical and problem-solving skills
the ability to think strategically and critically
basic financial analytical abilities
the ability to relate to a wide range of people
the ability to gain respect and act as a mentor to management
the ability to understand and relate to stakeholders
potential for long term valuable contribution and involvement
the ability to fill an identified skill need on the Board.
In addition, there will be specific school requirements, based on religious or other policy, which should be incorporated into these criteria.
School Boards carry all the ethical and practical demands of corporate Boards and that is why those with corporate experience are increasingly in demand. However, there are additional complexities involved in serving on a school Board such as educational, personal and spiritual dimensions that may come into play.
“All the issues you have running a company Board you have with a School Board, but then overwhelming that is the children”
Former Chair of Methodist Ladies College
Questions and Answers
“Is it good governance to have parents of current students on the School Board?”
Parents of current students can be excellent Board Members as they have a strong vested interest in the school. In addition, allowing representation of this stakeholder group on the Board provides peace of mind to other parents, thereby possibly reducing interference in governance issues. Parent representation on the Board also allows parents to contribute to the school in a tangible way. Finally, the school can benefit as it provides an additional perspective on the Board.
On the flip side, allowing parents to sit on the Board may have its disadvantages. Fiduciary duties dictate that Board Members must always act in the best interests of the school, however parents may have difficulties in the separation and understanding of responsibilities. The temptation arises for parents to make decisions that promote the best interests of their child, rather than those of the school.
Nevertheless, parents can be very beneficial on the Board due to their commitment and their additional perspective. Therefore, when appointing parents of current students to the Board, it is important to clearly explain their legal responsibilities and to encourage them to distinguish their Board role from their parental role.
“How can we attract new and valuable Members onto our School Board?”
Before searching for new Board Members it is important to evaluate the current Board Members in order to know what expertise and skills are represented on the Board and what expertise and skills are missing. Once these issues have been resolved, you can search for the right Board Member that will be the most value-adding to your existing team. A lot of quality people will be prepared to sit on your School Board but you must always ensure that they are made aware of what their commitments to the School will entail.
Board Members drive the School’s strategic direction by providing broad and varied perspectives. Each Member has a unique skill set that has been developed and sharpened by past experiences. The Board benefits immensely from collaboration of its Members, and many Boards find it useful to include a range of particular skills when structuring Board Membership.
The range of skills and attributes that should be sought for representation on a School Board includes:
risk management experience
financial and accounting experience
religious affiliation (if relevant).
In addition, consideration should be given to the gender balance on a School Board and a variety of age groups should be represented.
A skills matrix can be found at Appendix 2, which can then be used as a basis for determining requirements when vacancies occur.
The process for selection should be documented to ensure it is clear and transparent. It is important that there be a balance of skills and inputs on the Board, and that this mix – and the personality profile of existing Board Members – be considered when appointing new members. A team approach is very important with all Board Members working cooperatively. A sample Board Member Agreement for appointment of a new Board Member can be downloaded here.