• Frequently Asked Questions about the Board of Education

    What is the purpose of the board?

    According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, “the role of a board of education is not to run the schools, but to see that they are well run.  To accomplish this, a board makes policies.  Policies are the written expression of the board’s desires for the district’s students.  The policy statements of the board serve as a guide to the superintendent and provide her with direction, a basis for decision making, and an imperative for action.”

    The primary functions of the board are:

    1. To provide guidance in the areas of instruction, personnel, general administration, fiscal and business management, buildings and grounds, and community relations through policy development.

    2. To provide a program of quality instruction by adopting curriculum standards that create academic goals for students, supporting professional development for staff, and requiring reporting and evaluation of results.

    3. To provide for the effective management of the district by employing and evaluating the superintendent, establishing policies for monitoring district curriculum, finances, buildings and grounds and personnel, and requiring reports on results.

    4. To provide for two-way communication between the community and the board by informing the public about the schools, promoting parental presence in the schools, evaluating the superintendent of how effectively parental input is solicited and considered, and working to secure public understanding and support of district goals.

    Whom do Board members represent?

    First, board members are state officials required to uphold the laws and regulations of NJ and the US.  Second, as elected local officials, they represent the community’s children in the context of the community’s desire to see its children achieve.  The board develops its local policies within the laws and regulations mandated by the State Board of Education.

    What is the board’s role in setting policy?

    Policies articulate the board’s philosophy and goals for the district and its students.  A policy statement includes an explanation of the policy, its purpose, and whom it will affect.  Board policies address issues related to curriculum and instruction, personnel, general administration, fiscal and business management, buildings and grounds, and community relations. The staff is responsible for deciding how to implement policies, documenting plans, taking action and evaluating results.

    State law requires readings in two public board meetings prior to voting on a new policy. Recommendations for re-approval or changes to an existing policy can be voted on with one public reading, and can be voted on at the same meeting as the reading.

    What is the board’s role in personnel decisions?

    Board policy sets the district’s expectations for staff expertise, skills and performance standards.  The superintendent, administrators and supervisors are responsible for staff evaluations and recommendations regarding hiring, tenure, promotions and other personnel decisions.  After reviewing the administration’s recommendations and supporting data, the board votes on any required actions.  All discussion regarding personnel must be made in closed executive session; decisions must be voted on in public.

    Representatives of the board and the Berkeley Heights Education Association negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, usually every three years.  This agreement governs working conditions, salaries and benefits of the teaching staff, secretaries, paraprofessionals, custodians and transportation staff.  The board and association members must approve the proposed contract before it goes into effect.  The board is also responsible for hiring and evaluating the superintendent.

    What is the board’s role in developing the budget?

    To develop the budget, the board first sets parameters within which the superintendent and administrative team will work.  They take into account the district’s educational goals, negotiated contractual agreements, state requirements, and the impact on taxes.

    All personnel in the district have input.  Budget discussions in each school and department (e.g. building and grounds, special services, technology) are the first step.  Each principal and department head develops recommendations for his/her area of responsibility and submits them to the superintendent and business administrator for review.  The administrative team works together to review the recommendations, prioritize, make trade-offs and develop a total budget that achieves the district’s goals.  They then recommend a proposed budget to the board.

    The Board reviews and discusses the proposal, and may ask for more information or suggest changes.  While considering community input and supporting data, the Board’s first consideration is the provision of an effective education for all the students in the schools. The board must approve a preliminary budget by a specific deadline for submission to the state, which triggers calculations required for finalizing the budget.  A public hearing of the proposals is then required, usually in late March, before the board gives the proposal final approval.  The new budget goes into effect July 1.

     What is the board’s role in curriculum?

    Boards have three fundamental responsibilities.  First, they approve what is to be taught.  Second, they make sure that what is supposed to be taught is actually being learned.  Third, they make sure that the resources needed for learning are available and being used effectively.  New and revised courses of study, textbooks, and materials are developed and reviewed by faculty committees.  The Director of Curriculum and Instruction then recommends curriculum and textbooks to the board, and each board member is invited to review the materials and ask questions pertaining to the recommendation prior to voting.

    Who is eligible to serve on the board?

    Citizens who are registered to vote in the district, can read and write, have lived in the district for at least a year, are not a member of the local community government and have no legal or financial conflict of interest with the board are eligible to serve.  Board elections are held annually in November, and board members are elected for three-year terms.

    How is the board organized?

    Berkeley Heights has seven elected members and one member appointed by Mountainside to represent the Mountainside students who attend Governor Livingston High School.  The Business Administrator also serves as the Board Secretary.

    Each year after the board election, the board holds a reorganization meeting.  Among other decisions, the board elects a president and vice president for a one year term.  The president is the primary spokesperson for the board, works closely with the superintendent, and is responsible for making sure that board meetings run efficiently.  The president also works with the superintendent to develop agendas and discuss long range plans for board meetings.  The vice president fills these duties in the president’s absence.

    What is the Sunshine Law?

    The NJ Open Public Meetings Act (“Sunshine Law”) went into effect in 1975 for all public bodies organized by law and empowered to spend public funds or affect people’s rights.  Its purpose is to ensure that citizens hear all discussion dealing with policy formation and decision-making. All meetings attended by a majority of the board must be held in public unless the board is discussing agenda items which would endanger the public interest or violate the personal privacy or guaranteed rights of an individual.  These typically include items related to negotiations, personnel, individual students or legal matters.

    Although the Sunshine Law requires that the public be allowed to observe a meeting, it does not require that the public be allowed to participate.  Board meetings are working sessions where the board carries out its responsibilities of reviewing and setting policy, and the board has the authority to permit, regulate or prohibit active participation by the public at its meetings.

    How are meeting times and agendas communicated?

    Meetings are typically held the first and third Thursday of every month at 8:00 p.m.in the Columbia Middle School multi-purpose room.  A schedule and agenda is published on the district website.  Changes in meetings are posted at Town Hall, the Berkeley Heights Public Library, the six school buildings, as well as with the Courier News and The Independent Press. 

    The Board Meeting Schedule, Upcoming Agenda and Board Minutes are also available on the districts website.

    How are board meetings organized?

    On the Monday prior to each meeting, board members receive an agenda package with background information so that they can prepare for the meeting.  Copies of the agenda are available to the public at each meeting and in the board office following the meeting.

    Public meetings generally begin with a call to order, flag salute, roll call, approval of the prior meeting’s minutes, and announcements of the president.  The public is invited to ask questions or make comments on any of the agenda items scheduled to be discussed, providing opportunities for public input prior to board deliberation.  The meeting continues with board announcements and an update report by the superintendent.

    Much of the board’s work is done in the segment on information updates, reports and board action related to curriculum and instruction, buildings and grounds, finance, personnel or other policy-related topics.  The board reviews and discusses information that has been provided in advance and/or is presented at the meeting.  Following discussion, the board votes on items requiring action to be taken following the meeting.

    The public is invited to ask questions or make comments at the beginning of the meeting on specific agenda items, and then again at the end of the meeting on any issue or topic.  Board members are also given time to make final comments.

    The board typically meets in Executive Session before and/or after public meetings to discuss items related to negotiations, personnel, confidential or legal matters.

    What is the public’s role in board meetings?

    The primary purpose of meetings is for the board to carry out its responsibilities of reviewing, discussing and taking action on a wide range of policy-related issues.  The public is allowed to observe the board at work and is invited to participate in specific segments of the meeting with the guidelines set by board policy.  Each meeting requires that the board balance the need to conduct its business within a reasonable time frame and to receive constructive comments and questions from citizens.  The board president moderates the discussion with the aims of ensuring that board members have enough discussion to make decisions and that as many different public participants who want to speak have an opportunity to do so.  On certain topics with broad general interest and impact, such as the annual budget, the board may sponsor a special session devoted almost exclusively to public comment and dialogue.

    What are the most effective channels for raising and resolving issues?

    The first line of communication for issues related to an individual student, teacher, classroom or school is the teacher.  For issues that cannot be resolved satisfactorily with the teacher, the appropriate chain of command is then through principal, with appropriate central office administrator, the superintendent, and, finally the board.  Following this sequence improves communication, minimizes misunderstandings, facilitates the most expedient solutions and keeps the board free to act as final arbiter on issues that have not been resolved by those closest to the situation.

    The appropriate place to begin to address broader issues is with the school or district administrator who holds responsibility for that area of concern.

    Where can I get more information?

    The Board Secretary’s office can be reached by phone at 908-464-1601 x1400. You may also contact any member of the board.  See Members of the Board for names and contact information.

    Board policies are available for review in the Board Secretary’s office and on this website.

    Sources used for information provided on this web page include:

    The NJ School Boards Association website: www.njsba.org

    “Basic Boardsmanship” by Toby R. Simon, New Jersey School Boards Association, 1986, ISBN 0-912337-06-0.

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