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: What if I don’t have a conflict of interest, but I feel uncomfortable voting on a contentious issue in our district, because it will anger half of our community no matter how I vote?
A: As publicly elected officials, board members are elected to be a voice for their community. This sometimes means making decisions on controversial or unpopular topics. What can help board members process their community’s feelings is clearly communicating the rationale behind the decisions made, and the amount of time and work that went into making an informed decision on the topic.
Q: Can a district employee serve on the school board?
A: If elected, a school employee earning more than $20,000 per fiscal year from the school district (unless the contract is publicly bid in writing) would have to resign the position before serving on the school board. Iowa law prohibits board members from earning more than $20,000 in direct compensation from a school district per fiscal year, however some districts choose to set a lower level of compensation through policy.
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.
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, and reminding one another not to discuss board business on the drive, 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.
Q: My school district wants to adjust the school calendar to make up for extra snow days. Do we have to hold a public hearing to do this?
A: Yes. Iowa Code 279.10 says a public hearing is needed before approval of "any proposed calendar prior to adopting". In order to change the calendar a hearing is needed.
Q: Our school district’s soccer team won a regional tournament and the semifinal game is scheduled on the same evening as the board’s monthly regular meeting. If we cancel the meeting, does Iowa’s open meetings law require a board vote?
A: No. There is no legal requirement in Iowa Code Chapter 21 that requires regular meetings always be held as scheduled. Many districts have a board policy which states when the regular meetings will take place, and also provides room for boards to change a meeting in unusual circumstances. It is generally best practice to continue to host regular meetings at their previously scheduled date/time, so that the public can anticipate the next scheduled meeting. However, if districts choose to cancel a meeting, they should provide sufficient published notice of the cancellation and rescheduling of the meeting.
Q. When is a roll call vote legally required for school boards?
A. Roll call votes occur where each member of a governing board is called individually by name and responds with their vote on a motion. Roll call votes are only legally required to enter into closed session (21.5(2)), and to consider termination of a teacher's or administrator's contract (279.16, 279.24). However, Iowa Code Chapter 21.3 requires that the vote of each member present be made public at the open session and recorded in the minutes. Indeed an Attorney General's Advisory Opinion from Sept. 1, 2003, states that while voice votes may suffice to show how each member voted, non-unanimous votes should be clearly attributed to each board member at the meeting and reflected in the minutes how each member voted. Therefore, it would be a best practice for board presidents to verbally attribute any non-unanimous votes, and votes where a board member abstains.