School board minutes become official public records. Thus, it is imperative that they be comprehensive. They are not, however, verbatim transcripts of the meeting (though records of motions must be precise). Some material will not be included at all. It also helps readers if the material is organized so that it does not read like a stream-of-consciousness novel by James Joyce. Recording secretaries need to have a plan, and to be listening for certain types of information during the meeting that must go into the minutes.
Official minutes will follow the outline provided by Robert’s Rules of Order. They will take note of the following steps in the meeting:
- Call to order
- Roll call
- Reading of minutes of last meeting
- Officers’ reports
- Committee reports
- Special orders: important business assigned to this meeting at a previous meeting
- Unfinished business
- New business
Most of these points are routine. Past meeting minutes, officers’ reports, committee reports and announcements can be briefly summarized, with directions to follow to find the full documents referenced in an appendix (which you will provide).
Because these serve as legal records of votes taken, however, the roll call and the discussion and voting involved in “special orders,” “unfinished business” and “new business” must include crucial details. Below are tips for recording secretaries to ensure accuracy on each of these points:
Before the Meeting
- Make arrangements for proxy voting. The recording secretary must be able to confirm that he has on file voting members’ signed delegation of voting rights to their voting proxies who will be in attendance.
- Arrange how you will get the exact copy of the minutes of the last meeting, officers’ reports and committee reports. You will need them to create appendices, and you don’t want to be chasing down board members in the days after the meeting disperses.
During the Meeting
- Speak up! The recording secretary should clarify any points of confusion at the time that points are being made. Even waiting until right after the meeting could jeopardize accuracy.
- Note the time and location of the meeting. (e.g., Tuesday, September 19, 2017, 7:00 p.m., Girls’ Gymnasium, Wheeler High School)
- Because these minutes serve as official records of votes, minutes must indicate more than the names of attendees. The roll call section of the minutes should indicate whether a quorum was present, as well as the names of attendees. Just as appendices should contain the full minutes of the last meeting, the officers’ reports and committee reports, they should direct readers to an official record of the voting power of all members present and absent. That appendix item should also reflect which office (if any) attendees represent, if they are substituting for a regular member, and if they are voting on behalf of a voting member who could not attend. You can generate such an appendix document by circulating an attendance sheet to supplement the oral roll call.
In the attendance sheet, include not only a column for each person’s name, but also a column for the office each person represents. In a third column, attendees could indicate if they are substituting for someone else in their office. Important information that minutes often lack is which members have authorization to vote on behalf of an absentee. The form would look like this:
||Voting Proxy for
Based on this document, the recording secretary can provide more detailed information relevant to voting than the roll call alone. It is impossible to determine the legitimacy of votes without such a record; don’t make future readers connect the dots between attendees, absent members, the offices represented and their voting status!
- Discussion and voting will take place during the “special orders,” “new business” and “unfinished business” headings of the agenda. Typically, discussions become heated. Sometimes, exceptional expenditures will be authorized; from the same pot of money, the tax collector’s office may desperately need new computer software, while the sheriff needs training materials. Even when money is not at stake, the discussions cover matters near to the hearts of most members, both ideologically and pragmatically. The principal “went into education” on a mission to nail down fundamental reading and math skills, while a parent is furious that the junior high dance had only two security officers for 650 students. And the football coach desperately needs money for uniforms.
Especially if debates generate heat, the recording secretary must keep his eye on the ball. For the purpose of the minutes, he must keep track of the three moments in the life of any suggestion: the motion, the discussion and the vote. Here’s what to look out for:
- Motions and seconds. Minutes must reflect who makes and who seconds each motion. Equally important, they must show the verbatim content of what has been moved. Raise your hand. Ask the speaker to repeat the motion or to write it down.
- Discussion. What points were made, and by whom? If something is not clear, ask the speaker to repeat it.
- Votes. The recording secretary must put in the minutes whether each motion was approved, defeated or withdrawn. The vote of each member (even those represented by proxy) must be included for the public record.
- Record the exact time at which the meeting adjourned.
- An optional, but useful, addition is a typed section summarizing what tasks or projects were assigned during the course of the meeting, who is responsible for completing them and the deadline. Some chairs or superintendents will conclude the meeting by clarifying such assignments. If so, summarizing that step is easy. If not, you have the option of creating such a summary from notes made during the course of the meeting.
After the Meeting
Draft the minutes and attach appendices as soon as possible. Memory fades fast! Attach appendices based on submitted reports, proxy records and the attendance sheet. Then submit the complete package to the chairperson for approval or correction. Ideally, you will circulate the final minutes to all attendees within three to four days of the meeting.