communication, social & design

Everything you've always wanted to know about trustee elections for school boards in New Zealand.

Added on by Vibeke.

Well, not really everything, but perhaps some things, you probably didn't know you wanted to know : ) So here is what I know:

For the past three years I have been a member of the Board of Trustees at my local primary school. The trustee elections are coming up and I am not standing again, as my kids have moved out of primary school age and it is time to do new things!

For the longest time, before I decided to go on the board I was 'just a parent' at the school and I really did not have a clue how things worked and what the board actually did. It was all a bit intimidating to tell you the truth! So I want to write something for those who are voting in their own School Board elections or even considering standing to maybe help you get your head around it all.

If you are a parent at a public school in New Zealand you will probably have received a letter in the mail asking you for nominations for your school's board. Elections are held every 3 years and at that time happen nation wide. Some schools, like ours, also have mid-term elections for part of the board positions, to ensure continuity. So in our case 3 out of 5 parent representative positions are coming up and the other 2 in 18 months time. In some schools it is all positions being elected now.

Some things about the nominations and election process you have been dying to know:

1. The nominations are only the first part! At our school the returning officer needs your nominations by Friday the 20th of May. 

2. If there are more nominations than positions, an election will be held and all parents will receive another form. Your votes will need to be in by the 3rd of June for most schools.

3. You can nominate yourself! Or you can nominate someone else, but I think you probably do need their permission ; ) So talk to people who you think may be good. It may help them make up their mind, knowing they have support.

2. If there is going to be an election and you are standing you will have to write a little bit about yourself and your background to help people vote. If you're wondering what kind of skills or backgrounds may serve your community, talk to the current board chair and or principal or have a look at the trustee elections website.

3. The staff also vote, but for the staff representative on the board. 

Some things about being on the Board of Trustees

1. At our school there were roughly 10 board meetings a year, 1 a month, typically on a Wednesday night between 6:30pm and 9:30pm. This may be different at other schools.

2. Board members are also often part of committees working on something specific and have separate meetings. I was the parent communication liaison so I would go to our parent and fundraising groups meetings as well . I was also on a policy committee but we managed to do a whole lot in one year and then did not need to meet very often again. So some committees are temporarily. Different boards do this differently.

3. You do get paid a little bit per board meeting, it is tax free. A lot of board members choose to not take payments and donate it to the school. It would however cover the cost of a baby sitter for example. As I was solo parenting a big part of the time I used it for that, as I believe being a solo parent shouldn't stop you from being in a governance role.

4. There is excellent help and training available for school board members, for example from NZSTA. The training will help you in all areas of life. I think boards should support heaps of professional development, for their staff, but also for the board members! 

5. As a board member you learn a lot about everything that goes on in a school including about being an employer, which is one of your roles. I have found great appreciation for school staff.

6. You need to be able to keep things confidential, as you are in a position of trust. Sometimes you know things, that you simply can't blab about at the school gate or to your partner or children. 

7. The role of the board is to be the ethical heart & mind of the school and consider the needs of all the children in your community, (not just your own). Sometimes that means you have to take difficult decisions, but you never have to do so alone. You also hold the management responsible for how they run things at school. They are in charge of running things though, and you are just there to support them and ask the right questions.

Last night was my last board meeting. I am sad to be going because it has been a real privilege to be part of our board, a great team with wonderful people who collectively had lots of skills and knowledge in finance, property, youth health and wellbeing, education, communication and more. I have learned so much from them and from the people who work at the school. 

Having been in a governance role, I have become passionate about accurate representation of our communities at board level. I have seen first hand the value of everyone's input in the discussions we have and how it helps make better decisions when there is a variety of views.

We really need people from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicity and gender to be involved in thinking about the bigger picture for our kids and communities. One of the things I have really valued is being on a board that was fairly gender balanced, I believe this is one of the things worth striving for as a community. I know this is just one way of having a balanced board but as it is pertinent to our little school at the moment I want to tell women in particular to take an interest in governance. Not all school boards in New Zealand have much talent to choose from or many people sticking their hand up, so boards that are fully representative of communities are hard to achieve. I know that women are often involved in many ways in their kids schooling, but I hope they also consider governance.

Boards have to deal also with complaints, discipline matters and appointments.  Sometimes a committee is formed to take decisions about kids or teachers and sometimes about sensitive things. When you're making these decision you can't go and do a survey or discuss things with stakeholders, you just have to try make the right decision in the moment knowing what you know as a group. Sometimes if you are the only woman, or the only Maori, or the only Pasifika person in a committee or a board, it can feel like a lot rests on your shoulders. Board really want to make sure they have a variety of perspectives on these committees. We should be grateful for those that are taking those roles, and please help them by sticking up your hand some time as well, so a board can rotate responsibility. Your perspective will be valuable and is relevant.

At our school, 2 of the existing board members are standing again and I am really glad they are because of their wealth of knowledge and skills. In our meeting last night  however we all agreed we would love to have a wide variety of people standing.

The elections process can seem daunting but it really should not be a reason to not express your interest. I think one of the reasons why people don't stand is because it feels like you have to take part in a popularity contest. Often the people who get the most votes simply are  socially active or have had kids the longest at the school so a lot of people know them, and it is really important to have people on the board that are seen as approachable and who can draw on a wide network. We do need all sorts of people on our boards though.

Sometimes board members don't stay the full term, because people have lots of commitments, it may turn out it is not what they expected or things in life, work, school change and people move on, leaving a board to find replacements at any stage during the board term.  If there is a need for certain skills or more balanced representation on a board, boards can also choose to co-opt some people for a period of time alongside elected members, which has proven very valuable for our community quite a few times.

For this to work your board needs to know who may be interested in helping out. Maybe you just have skills in a certain area and you would be willing to work on a project, could be finance or IT for example, or it could be building or architecture. If you have ever thought of standing or just helping out, go and talk to existing board members, the board chair or your principal. You can also talk to the school trustee organisation NZSTA and for more info about the elections you can have a look at the Trustee Election website 

This is my reading of how school boards and elections work and may not be relevant for the upcoming elections in your community or school, but I am happy to answer any questions or change anything I got wrong.
happy nominating and voting!