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Mini Tutorial: School Boards 101

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Why are school board meetings so darn formal, unlike any other meeting you've attended in your work or volunteer life? Some of this formality (like when board members refer to one another as “Trustee So-and-So”) is out of respect for the institution of democracy. Much of this formality is actually required by law.

All legislative bodies in California (from school boards to city councils to the state legislature) must comply with California’s Open Meeting Law, otherwise known as “the Brown Act.” The Brown Act ensures that board business is done in view of the public (with a few exceptions, noted below).

For example, boards must telegraph to the public where and when they will meet, what they will discuss, and how to participate. The district must post agendas for regular meetings of the board at least 72 hours in advance. At that meeting, the board may only discuss and act upon items included in the pre-posted agenda.

While community members may attend board meetings (in person or via Zoom) the purpose of the meetings is for trustees to conduct the work of the board, not for a back-and-forth discussion with the public. In other words, the board is conducting its business in front of the public, not with the public.

That said, members of the public have an opportunity to address the board on any subject within its jurisdiction during the "public comment" portion of the agenda.

LLESD's board bylaws limit public comment on each item to a total of 20 minutes, giving each speaker up to three minutes. The board can choose to increase or decrease that time depending on the topic and number of people wishing to speak.

It's common in school board and other public meetings for members of the public

to come and go. Please don't feel like you're being rude if you get up and leave once your agenda item has passed. We get it!

The board goes into “closed session” to discuss certain confidential items as allowed by law, including:

  • Real estate negotiations

  • Confidential student information, including discipline

  • Litigation or potential litigation against the district

  • Items related to security (e.g. details of emergency protocols that might compromise student safety if they were public)

  • Certain personnel matters

  • Labor negotiations (see my blog post on collective bargaining)

The board must still publicly agendize the topics to be discussed in closed session, invite public comment on those items, and disclose any actions it took during closed session. The board may not discuss items outside of those posted on the agenda.

To ensure transparency, a majority of board members cannot communicate about district business outside of the public's view. This means each of our board members can only communicate about a district-related topic with one other board member outside of a meeting. (Fun fact: some elected officials refer to this other person as their “Brown-Act Buddy.”)

Can board members attend events together?

The Brown Act does not limit board attendance at purely social or ceremonial events, conferences, or public events about a topic of community interest. That's why board members may all attend 8th-grade graduation, the LLEF auction, board forums with the public or labor associations, and other events of this kind.

Are board members district employees?

No. Our school board members are unpaid volunteers, many with full-time jobs. In fact, the school district cannot employ current board members, as this would present a conflict of interest. To ensure transparency, all board members must submit annually a Form 700 "Statement of Economic Interests."

Board members want to hear from you! Unfortunately, the formality of board business can make it feel stiff and intimidating to the point where community members may hesitate to reach out. (How do I address the board? Honorable Trustees? President “Such-and-Such” and Members of the Board? To Whom it May Concern?) I can assure you that, as long as it’s respectful, I don’t care how you address me. Here are a few ways you can get in touch:

  • By email or phone (if you are in our district, look me up in the directory)

  • By making a public comment at a board meeting

  • In person at a school event or in the community


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