Whether elected or appointed, occasionally a Board member runs into a question of, “So, You’re a Board Member. Now What?”. Just what does that means in terms of his or her POWER in regards to the school district? The usual mantra regarding the rights of individual board members is that individual board members have no greater, and no less, rights than any other citizen. If, therefore, an individual citizen can look at his or her student’s educational records, then so can a Board member. If an individual citizen can observe his or her child’s class, then so can a Board member.
While this comparison to the rights of a normal individual holds true most of the time, there are some areas where an individual citizen has rights that an individual board member does not. For instance, while an individual citizen can volunteer to serve, without pay, as a teacher at the school, an individual board member cannot. Op. Atty. Gen. I90-023 (R89-150). Similarly, where an individual citizen can contact each of the members of a school board to attempt to sway the members to vote a certain way on an issue, a member of the Board doing the same thing would be in violation of the Open Meeting Law. See: Agency Handbook, Open Meeting Law, §7.5.2 Circumvention of the Open Meeting Law.
In general, however, unless the governing board, acting in a properly noticed board meeting, votes to appoint a single board member to perform a task, a single board member, acting alone, cannot direct school officials to take an action or to forego taking an action. Only actions taken by the Board as a whole in a legally noticed Board meeting, subject to the provisions of the Open Meeting Law, are enforceable. See: Ahnert v. Sunnyside School Dist., 126 Ariz. 473, 475; 616 P.2d 933, 935 (App. 1980). In addition, the standard Arizona School Boards (ASBA) policy BCA on Board Ethics reminds Board members that the ethical board member shall “Take no private action that will compromise the Board or administration. . . .”
There are a few other areas where the rights of an ordinary citizen differ from that of a Board member. For instance, an ordinary citizen cannot access executive session minutes while a Board member can not only access executive session minutes for the meetings he or she attended, the Board member can also access executive session minutes that occurred even before the Board member became a member of the Board. Picture Rocks Fire Dist. v. Updike, 145 Ariz. 79, 699 P.2d 1310 (App. 1985).
Most Districts which have adopted Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) policies have a method for an individual Board member to place an item on the agenda, even if the Superintendent and the Board President don’t want the item placed on the agenda. Policy BEDBA. A member of the public has no right to have an item placed on a Board agenda.
An ordinary citizen is not required to read the Arizona Open Meeting Law, but a Board member is required to read the law before taking office. A.R.S. §38-431.01 (G) states “A person elected or appointed to a public body shall review the open meeting law materials at least one day before that person takes office.”
ASBA has a number of opportunities for Board members to learn about their role in a District. If a Board member doesn’t have the time or inclination to attend training, however, ASBA policies dealing with a Board member’s ethical duties and responsibilities are listed in Section B of the Board policies.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding So, You’re a Board Member. Now What?, or other Education Law matters, please feel free to contact Candyce B. Pardee at 800.863.6718, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona with a branch office in Yuma, Arizona, and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.