The school board’s Planning & Development Committee held four intensive work sessions over the course of six months in coming up with a list of schools to be closed because of falling enrollment, working closely with the superintendent and her top lieutenants. The committee chair had also partnered with the superintendent in addressing a number of community forums about the reasons why the closings were necessary and how the list of schools was being developed. The Planning & Development Committee officially hosted the special board work session that reviewed the committee’s closing recommendations, and the Planning & Development Committee chair ultimately introduced the resolution pertaining to the closings, which was passed unanimously at a regular board business meeting.
This true story illustrates one of the powerful benefits of well-designed board standing committees: providing superintendents with what you might call “spear carriers” – committee chairs and members who play a leading role in addressing thorny and often controversial issues like school closings and who formally recommend action at board business meetings. In practice, this means that the superintendent doesn’t have to expend nearly as much of her precious – and finite – line of credit in securing board action.
This very practical political benefit is one of the reasons why every really board-savvy superintendent I’ve worked with over the years has been an ardent advocate for well-designed board standing committees and other vehicles for engaging volunteers and transforming them into spear carriers. Of course, there are other compelling reasons for board committees – such as more thorough preparation for board meetings – but you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having strong champions who can help preserve your line of credit with the board.
It’s important to keep in mind that board committees aren’t the only vehicle for fostering volunteer spear carriers who will help you preserve your precious line of credit. For example, a task force of board members and community leaders might come up with a strategy for strengthening the ties between the business sector and your district and recommend board adoption of the strategy. The point is to take the pressure off you, as your district’s CEO, to carry all of the important recommendations to your board for action, leaving you a larger line of credit to draw on when you really need it.