Best Practices for Taking Board Meeting Minutes

For anybody who takes minutes at a school board meeting, the best advice is: “Keep your eye on the ball!” Digressions, details, and strong opinions are certain to arise. The minute-taker is not there to write out every last word like an old-school stenographer “taking a letter” in shorthand. He is there to keep a summary of actions taken.At most, he will succinctly summarize discussions; strict adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order would have him avoid recording anything at all about discussions. By following these guidelines, anyone can create state-of-the-art minutes.

Key: Allot your Time Wisely

Taking minutes, it may seem, requires a lot of work after the meeting, some fast-as-possible note-taking during the meeting, and no work at all before the meeting. The best board secretaries know that the reverse is true: with extensive preparation prior to the meeting, the meeting itself becomes a simple quest for a pre-determined list of facts that must be recorded in the meeting. After the meeting? Whereas this phase was once a frantic attempt to separate wheat from chaff in the excessive account of details taken in the meeting, it now takes little more than typing. The process works if you take the following steps during each stage of the game.

Before the Meeting (the most work: setting up the prompts you’ll need to jot down in the meeting)

Conspicuously mark up the agenda; with those visuals, you’ll look for exactly what you need to record. Then, take these steps before the meeting:

  1. Get speakers to sign up a week before the agenda is to be released. Pre-registration goes a long way to prevent the rants that so often derail school board meetings. The pre-registration forms can be kept online, where two key points should be prominently displayed: the due date for the form and the time limit for the oration. It should ask each speaker the topic of her remarks. If you do not create the agenda, work in collaboration with the person who does; you will both need to reference the list of speakers and topics.
  2. Read the agenda as soon as it is released. You will need the lead time in case you need to ask questions in advance. In that case, you can ask the chairperson for clarification.Check the agenda for:
  1. From the agenda, type up a separate sheet with tools to guide your record-keeping:

You’ll thank yourself later for generating these tools. In the meeting, you will not have to write out by hand the names of these attendees or guess at spellings. You can just put a checkmark by their names if they actually do attend. Nor will you try to squeeze your summary of extensive discussions and details of motions into a cramped space.

  1. Mark up your agenda. The following added markingswill guide your eye during the meeting:

During the Meeting (lighter work: filling in blanks)

The heavy lifting is now behind you. In the meeting, an easy scan of the notes you’ve inserted into the agenda - and the supplementary documents that you’ve created - makes the meeting itself a laser-edged search for the exact things you’ll need for your minutes, minus all the distractions. Bold words and underlines – plus the attached pages - direct you to be on the lookout for these points in the meeting:

After the Meeting (the lightest work: typing up results)

If this stage once caused angst and consumed lots of time, you’ll be surprised how easy it has become. Following the agenda that you marked up (and the additional sheets that are now filled in with notes on discussions, motions made, etc.), your job is simple:

From the marked-up agenda, you can easily see the meeting venue, the exact start time, board members in attendance, invited guests in attendance, speakers from the public in attendance, who sent regrets, who was absent, whether a quorum was present, and whether or not the minutes of the last meeting and the committee reports were approved in the vote on the consent agenda, what action was taken on each agenda item, and whether the meeting complied with ADA rules, open meeting laws, and closed session regulations. You will need to insert the exact phrasing from the related rules when you record compliance.

From the supplementary pages that you created, you can see your notes on the content of the scheduled discussions on agenda items and the points raised by speakers from the public. While you wrote these notes with an eye to conciseness, you may need to tighten the wording a bit more to make them succinct accounts of points raised. If they’re not recorded in the third-person voice, convert them now.

To keep a perfectly clear paper trail, attach to the minutes any reports brought in to the meeting (but not attached in advance to the agenda) – anything that informed discussions or votes. The paper trail will also benefit from your listing the title of each outside document handed out in hard copy and whether or not it was collected before the meeting was adjourned.

Taking these steps makes it natural to stay focused on what you actually need during the din of the meeting. Your minutes will be right on target with far less stress than before. Putting in time before the meeting saves time, angst, and errors later. Better minutes with less aggravation will result.

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