Ask IASB Staff Experts: School Board FAQ

IASB staff members respond to member questions daily, and no two questions are the same. Check out answers to your most pressing questions below, ranging from topics addressing meeting procedures, to conflicts of interest, to board policy.

Organizational Meetings
Conflicts of Interest
Vacancies
Meetings
Board Policy
School Finance
Advocacy

Organizational Meetings

Q: Can we administer the oath of office to a newly elected/re-elected board member outside of the organizational meeting?
A: Yes, once the votes are canvassed and official, Iowa code 277.28 indicates the oath to be administered at or before the organizational meeting. The board member could go to the district office to be sworn in prior to the organizational meeting. If this is not possible and the new board member is unable to be physically present, either before or at the organizational meeting, they may be sworn in over the phone. Iowa Code 21.8 and 21.2 specifies that board members can participate in a board meeting via electronic means when being physically present is impossible or impractical. Best practice is that an additional person is present with the new board member during the delivery of the oath of office. Important note: If the board member is not sworn in by the organizational meeting this would result in a vacancy.

Q: What is the process if there is a tied vote during officer elections?
A: In the event someone abstains, a tied vote is a possibility. If there is a tied vote, the motion fails and the board must vote until the motion passes.

Q: Does the president and/or vice president need to take the oath of office when elected during the organizational meeting?
A: No. The president and/or vice president are not required to take the oath of office during the organizational meeting. They can be sworn in by the board secretary after the meeting if they are not present. However, this does not mean they don’t need to take the oath of office at all—they should take the oath of office when elected to the officer position.

Q: Does the outgoing board conduct a meeting to take action on unfinished business?
A: Yes. The organizational meeting is held in two parts: the final meeting of the outgoing board and the organizational meeting of the new board. The outgoing board votes on unfinished business, including settling the books for the previous year.

Q: The board secretary has a scheduling conflict and cannot attend the organizational meeting. Who can administer the oath of office to new board members?

A: IASB sample policy indicates that another board member can administer the oath of office. It is also addressed in Iowa Code 277.28.

Q: When we are voting to elect officers, does the final tally need to include the number of total votes for the nominee and how each board member voted?
A: Yes, according to the Iowa Open Meetings Law, “the minutes shall show the results of each vote taken and information sufficient to indicate the vote of each member present."

Conflicts of Interest

Q: What constitutes a conflict of interest for a board member?
A: Certain conflicts of interest are identified in federal law, state law and board policy. Iowa law sets parameters limiting compensation from the district; prohibiting being an agent of a textbook or school supply company selling to the school district; and prohibiting also serving as a statewide official or state legislator. In addition, Iowa law prohibits school board members from accepting gifts or honoraria, with some exemptions.

Q: Can a district employee serve on the school board?
A: If elected, a school employee earning more than $2,500 per fiscal year from the school district would have to resign the position before serving on the school board. Iowa law prohibits board members from earning more than $2,500 in direct compensation from a school district per fiscal year for part-time or temporary employment.

Q: Is it a conflict of interest if a school employee’s spouse serves on the school board?

A: No. Iowa law does not prohibit a school employee’s spouse from serving on the school board.

Q: Can family members, including spouses, serve on the school board together?
A: Iowa law does not prohibit family members from serving on the same school board.

Q: Can a former school employee serve on the school board if they are receiving retirement/benefits compensation from the district?
A: Yes, they can serve on the school board. Iowa law does not prohibit a former school employee from serving on the school board if elected because that contract/benefits decision was authorized by a former board and will not come up in front of the board member.

Vacancies

Q: If a board member resigns, can we put the required publication in the paper right away?
A: Yes. Once a vacancy occurs, the board may fill the vacancy by board appointment within 30 days of the vacancy. Read more in this IASB special report on filing a vacancy.

Q: Does the board need to take any action on a resignation?
A: Yes. A formal approval/acceptance of the resignation by the board can happen at the next meeting. However, once the resignation is received by the board secretary, resignation is effective immediately unless a date is specified in the resignation.

Q: We have a vacancy on our board and multiple candidates have expressed interest in the position. What are best practices for selecting which candidate to appoint?

A: First, the board must publish notice of the vacancy and their intent to fill by board appointment. The vacancy must be filled within 30 days of the notice from the retiring board member unless a valid petition for a special election is submitted. While there isn't any set formula, the board appointment process should be transparent and equitable while providing the board members adequate information to make an informed decision. We recommend, at the very least, that each interested candidate be provided a questionnaire that elicits information regarding their desire and ability to perform the responsibilities of the position. Such questions may include, but are not limited to, the candidates' experience, interests, goals for the position, and community involvement. It would be wise to also provide public notice of the questionnaire and submission details so that other members of the public may submit their interest prior to the deadline. All submissions should then be provided to the board prior to the meeting where they will be filling the appointment. The board may also choose to provide interested candidates an opportunity to speak before the board at a public meeting, as long as each candidate is allotted an equal amount of time to do so. Ultimately, the board will decide their specific appointment process, but should strive to keep the process open, fair and complete. 

Meetings

Q: Our board is driving together to a neighboring district to look at their facilities. Does this constitute a meeting?
A: IASB advises board teams to err on the side of openness. Iowa law states that a meeting exists when a majority of the board deliberates or takes action on an issue within the board’s policy making duties. Board members may gather for purely social purposes or ministerial duties, such as a graduation or awards ceremony, and this gathering would not be considered a meeting. However, in traveling to a neighboring district for an education-related purpose, board members may unintentionally discuss an issue while riding together. By posting the facility visit in compliance with the open meetings law, the board prevents an unintentional violation as well preventing potential public perception of violation. Check out the full Open Meetings Overview on the IASB website.

Q: We arrived at our board meeting, and only three of our seven members were in attendance. Can we still have a meeting and address our agenda?
A: If, after waiting a reasonable amount of time for additional board members to arrive, there still is not a quorum, a meeting cannot be held. The meeting will need to be postponed to a time when a quorum of board members can attend.

Q: Does the board president vote on every motion or only in the case of a tie breaker?
A: The board president is an elected public official, like the rest of the board. It is important that all board members participate in voting, including board officers.

Q: Can the board president make a motion or second a motion?

A: The board president can legally do both. However, best practice is that the board president facilitates and controls the meeting and asks for motions and seconds rather than making them. If desired, boards can create a district policy that prohibits the board president from moving or seconding unless the board president hands over control of the meeting to the vice president before doing so. The board president does have a responsibility to vote on motions.

Q: Can I amend the agenda for an open meeting with less than 24 hours' notice?
A: Yes, an agenda can be amended if good cause exists for amending the agenda with less than 24 hours' notice. You must include the basis for the good cause in the minutes of the meeting. (Iowa Code 21.4–Public Notice) Please note that adding last minute additions to the agenda on a frequent basis may erode public trust.

Board Policy

Q: Is the board legally required to adopt a policy regarding English Learner (EL) students?
A: While there isn't a legal requirement that a specific board policy be adopted regarding EL students or an EL program, districts may choose to have a board policy regarding either. There are also several required policies regarding education opportunity and non-discriminatory practices that are related to providing an equitable education. For example, some related Sample Policies are 102 Equal Education Opportunity, 501.16 Homeless Children and Youth, 505.8 Parent and Family Engagement, 603.4 Multicultural/ Gender Fair Education , 605.6R1 Internet - Appropriate Use Regulation. Please review your district's policies and consult IASB's Sample Policies as a reference.

Q: Should the board include mandatory policies as district policies, or is it sufficient to address the mandatory policies in a handbook or other district document?
A: IASB provides a list of mandatory policies; these policies should be included in the district's policy reference manual. It's also a good idea to reference or include them in the district handbook.

Q: Our board is interested in creating a committee to address employee issues. What should our board consider before creating a committee?
A: If your board is considering creating a committee, follow these steps to ensure compliance: Consult your district’s policy on committees and compare the policy to IASB Sample Policy 208 on Ad Hoc Committees. Some committees, such as a Labor Management Committee, may require additional obligations to the district. Work with legal counsel to ensure any proposed committee is compliant with the law. Outline the purpose, structure, duties and authority of the proposed committee before taking action.

Q: Are we legally required to release the superintendent's contract, upon request from the community?
A: Yes. Prior to releasing the contract, contact your district attorney to ensure any item that isn't public is redacted first. Following your attorney's review, check your district policy for additional guidelines regarding records requests, such as restrictions on where the contract must be viewed, if and how much an individual is charged for copies, etc. Iowa Code 22.7(11)(a)(1).

Q: Are regulations and exhibits within IASB sample policies legally required to be adopted, reviewed and revised?
A: 281 Iowa Administrative Code sec. 12.3(2) requires that board policies list the date of adoption, review and revision for each policy. Regulations and exhibits in IASB sample policies are considered a part of what makes up that sample policy, and should go through the process of adoption, review and revision along with the policy they supplement. Regulations and exhibits are not free standing policies covered under 12.3(2), so they do not have a separate space listed for adoption, review and revision.

Q: How responsible is the board for the school calendar? We approve a calendar each school year, but whenever we have a snow day, it changes. Why do we even approve it at all?
A: While the board is responsible for approving and adopting the school calendar, according to Iowa Code 279.10, it is meant to be a "big picture" of the year ahead. For example, the school start date, number of instructional days, etc. When there is an emergency, whether it's weather-related, a facilities issue, or something else entirely, the administration must act quickly and board approval is not necessary. The board has a governance responsibility to provide the overall supports for student learning—not the management responsibility of handling day-to-day operations. IASB offers a school calendar template that can be customized to meet the needs of your district, located in the Policy & Legal Corner Toolbox on the IASB website.

Q: What contact information is required for each public school board member on a district website?
A: Iowa Code 70A.40 requires that within 30 days of board members taking their oath of office, the district must post a telephone number or an email address for each board member.

Q: My district plans to hold a game night with a charity raffle where we raffle off non-cash prizes. Do we need any special license to host this?
A: You may or may not need a license, but you certainly need approval from the state. If the raffle charges any money at all or consists of very small non-cash prizes, it may not need a license from the state, but it will still require approval. There are additional requirements listed within Chapter 99B of the Iowa Code.

School Finance

Q: Our district has a special education balance deficit. Why should the board approve a request for a modified supplemental amount for the deficit?
A: IASB recommends that boards approve that request. In many cases, there is not enough money generated and designated for special education services to fully fund the cost of those services. Because of this, funding is taken from regular program dollars to cover the excess special education costs. If the board approves a request for a modified supplemental amount, Iowa law allows districts to recoup the regular program money that was spent to cover the additional special education costs.

Advocacy

Q: During the summer months, legislators are home and visible around the community. What are some best practices in terms of advocacy?
A: Summer is a great time to build relationships with your legislators as well as share successes and challenges. They are participating in community events, parades, festivals and more. If you see them out and about at these public events, introduce yourself and ask them to meet with you one-on-one.Consider inviting them to participate in "see for yourself" tours, where you can walk them through your buildings and point out needed improvements or upgrades that could be addressed by extension of the state penny sales tax. During this tour you can also highlight positive effects from legislation they supported and urge them to continue pursuing legislation for more local control. Use our Legislator Look-up Tool for contact information, and brush up on issues with our Issue Toolkits. If you need help with messaging that resonates with your legislator or ideas for a school visit, contact our government relations staff.