Legalities

March 6, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 9

Legalities

By Howard E. Seufer Jr., Esq.

Q. How do items get onto the agenda of regular board meetings?

A. The school laws do not dictate how decisions are to be made to put items on the agenda for regular school board meetings.  [In contrast, in the case of special meetings, the person or persons calling the meeting control what the purpose of the meeting will be, since state law requires that the purpose of each special meeting be set forth in the “call” of the special meeting.  Only the president or three board members may call a special meeting.] 

The closest the school laws come to addressing the issue of how items get onto a regular meeting agenda is the rule that unless otherwise provided by law, all school board decisions are to be made by a majority of the members voting at a meeting at which a quorum is present. 

Thus, if, at a board meeting attended by a quorum of the board’s members, one board member moves that Item X be placed on the agenda of a designated future meeting, and if the motion is adopted by a majority of the members voting, then the item must be placed on the agenda of the designated meeting.

Beyond that, county boards may enact policies establishing a regular process by which items are put on a meeting agenda.  We’ve seen at least one such policy that left it to the board president, in consultation with the superintendent, to write the agenda.  We’ve worked with one county where the policy was that any board member had the right to give an item to the superintendent and to have it appear on the agenda.  Some, we’re sure, simply leave it to the superintendent to develop and publish an agenda.

That being said, much of the business considered at board meetings is business that a state law or a county board policy requires the board to address.  Such items must appear on an agenda in order to satisfy the law or policy.  Any policy on how meeting agendas are formulated must provide a way for these mandatory items to appear on an agenda for consideration by the board. 

I believe this is one reason why, regardless of who else can place items on the agenda, school boards uniformly allow their superintendent to do so.  Because the superintendent is supposed to be knowledgeable of items that the school board is required by state law or county policy to consider, the superintendent is expected to keep the board out of legal trouble by placing those matters on the board’s agenda for action at the appropriate time.

These include matters relating to employees.  For example, if an employee requests a hearing on the superintendent’s proposal to suspend or terminate the employee’s contract, the board must include the hearing on a meeting agenda because a state law entitles the employee to a hearing.  Another example:  If a county board policy requires employees who wish to take a leave of absence to first obtain the board’s approval, then if an employee makes application for a leave under the policy, presumably the matter would be placed on a meeting agenda for consideration by the board.

Finally, with those exceptions, there is no legal requirement under state law that the board agenda must include items that employees, parents, community members or other citizens ask the board to address. However, a county policy could conceivably provide otherwise.

Editor's Note: Howard Seufer, West Virginia School Board Association counsel, is a partner in the Bowles Rice law firm's Education Law Practice Group.