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
Board Policy
School Finance
What is the Best Way to Advocate to My Legislators?

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  the oath must be administered at or before the organizational meeting. If the new board member is unable to be physically present, either before or at the organizational meeting, they may be sworn in electronically. 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, and a record is made that the oath was administered. Important note: If the board member is not sworn in at or before 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 or is absent, a tied vote is a possibility. If there is a tied vote, the motion fails and the board must vote until a 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, provided they take the oath within ten days of their election/appointment to their officer's position. 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, which may include 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: Our school district's boundary lines fall within multiple counties. Do we need to wait until after the Tier 2 canvass of votes until we can hold our organizational meeting?
A: Yes. The board cannot hold the organizational meeting until after the final canvass of votes. All school districts will canvass the first Monday or Tuesday following the election in the Tier 1 canvass of votes. That is the final canvass for school districts who are only contained within one county. In the Tier 2 canvass of votes, which takes place the second Monday or Tuesday following the election, only school districts located within multiple counties canvass; this is the final canvass of votes for those districts.

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." For additional resources on the open meetings law, please check out our toolkit, including an overview of the law, FAQ and information regarding closed sessions.

Q: Can districts use public funds to pay for board members-elect to attend training at the IASB Convention before they are seated at the organizational meeting?
A: Yes. The first canvass of votes and final canvass of votes take place after elections, on specific dates. IASB's Annual Convention is held in November before the Thanksgiving holiday each year. At the time of Annual Convention, some newly-elected board members will not have had the opportunity to take the oath of office at their organizational meeting. These board members-elect may still attend Annual Convention and have their registration and travel fees paid by their school districts.

Q: At the Organizational Meeting, who presides over the start of the meeting until the new board president is elected, and how is the election done?
A: The newly elected and qualified board’s designee will preside over the start of the meeting. Typically this is the board secretary or the superintendent. The president pro-tem calls for nominations; no second is required. The board will then vote on the nominations. The secretary will announce the result of the vote, and the president pro-tem will administer the oath of office to the newly elected president and the newly elected president will assume the chair.

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: 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? 
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: 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 appointment within 30 days of the vacancy. Read more in this IASB resource on filing a vacancy.

Q: Does the board need to take any action on a resignation?
A: No, but it can be helpful to communicate the resignation to your community. 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 or on a date 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 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.


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?
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.



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 but they should be reviewed/revised at the same time as the policy they complete. 

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.

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.

Q: What should my board focus on to help guide board learning?
A: It’s a big benefit when boards focus their learning, as a whole board team, on governance level leadership. This includes learning to strengthen what the board knows and does in relation to areas such as: establishing a powerful vision and goals, providing leadership for the district’s efforts to improve instruction and ensure high levels of student learning, sustain and enhance district resources, and more. We encourage boards to use IASB's standards, based on best practice and research to learn about ways to maximize the board's leadership. The Standards for Effective School Boards are designed as a common framework for excellence in school board governance and includes six standards that can help clarify the work of high-performing boards.

Q: Our district has community members who regularly provide public comment. Not all community members are aware of the requirements for public comment and do not realize that board members may not respond to the public comment speakers. This has led to growing community perception that because our board does not respond, we are unwilling to engage with the community. How can we communicate the requirements for public comment, clarify expectations and engage within the parameters of conducting public comment?
A: It is important that any restrictions placed on a public forum are both: viewpoint neutral, and applied evenly to all speakers. Districts should first look to their board policy to determine whether it is up to date and accomplishes these requirements. Many districts have chosen to communicate the rules of their public forum to their community by including them with the board agenda, adding them to a speaker sign in sheet, or by reading the rules aloud prior to beginning public forum. It can be noted in the rules that board members are not permitted to respond to the speakers’ content, because it could violate the open meetings law, but that administration may choose to follow up with the speaker’s concerns after the meeting.

Q: What are the requirements for teacher contracts?
A: Iowa Code 279.13(1)(a) outlines five requirements for teacher contracts:

  1. Contracts must be in writing;
  2. Contracts must be one year in length;
  3. Contracts must state the number of contract days;
  4. Contracts must include the annual compensation to be paid; and
  5. Contracts must include any other matters that are mutually agreed upon
Q: Can the superintendent hire custodians without board approval?
A: Yes, but only if the board adopts a policy authorizing the superintendent to do so. If that policy is adopted by the board, Iowa Code 279.20 permits the superintendent to hire support personnel. The policy must specify which positions the superintendent is authorized to fill.

Q: During online school registration, should parents upload birth certificates or copies of birth certificates onto the district's system to show proof of a child's age?
A: No. Only the state registrar's office may issue birth certificates, certified copies, or any copies. (Iowa Code 144.45(5)). Parents may choose from a variety of documents to show proof of a child's age, including but not limited to a certified statement of a physician, and an immunization record listing the child's date of birth. If a parent wishes to use a birth certificate to verify age, the district should view the certificate in person, then return it to the parents. No copy should be made.

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.

Q: What's my board's role during the budget process?
A: Boards play a significant and important role in the budget process—most notably, approving the district's budget each spring for the upcoming fiscal year. In order to be successful in this role, board members should engage in meaningful dialogue with the administration and provide informed feedback when presented with the proposed budget. Check out IASB's list of guiding questions for the board to use during this process.

Q: Why is the amount of spending authority so much more important than the amount of cash on hand at the end of the fiscal year?
A: It is because running out of spending authority is a violation of Iowa law. However, running out of cash is not a violation of Iowa law. Districts can always borrow cash but cannot borrow spending authority.

What is the Best Way to Advocate to My Legislators?

Q: What are the best ways to advocate on behalf of my district to my legislators?
A: School board members and districts should be setting up meetings now with their legislators to let them know of the issues facing your district. When you meet with them, consider using this outline to ensure a clear and concise meeting:
  • Invite your legislator to a board meeting or for coffee. The best way to be effective is to make sure your legislator knows who you are. Legislators interact with hundreds of people every day so if you can reference back to a previous meeting you had or the times you have spoken with them on an issue, that will help lift your voice above the others.
  • Make your story resonate. Keep your contact to the point and stay on message, give specific examples of how legislation affects your district, include a personal story as to why you care about an issue, ask them support/oppose legislation, and keep in contact during the session.
  • Give them your cell phone and personal email. They will likely return the favor and you want them to view you as a resource!
  • ALWAYS be respectful. Politics can get heated but look at the bigger picture. You never know when your legislator might be your biggest supporter.
If you need help with messaging that resonates with your legislator or for additional ways to effectively advocate to your legislator, contact our government relations staff.

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