Board Governance: The Consent Agenda

Dan VanderArk wrote a piece, posted on December 15, titled “Board Meetings in Under 90 Minutes.” As someone who currently sits on four CSI boards and two other private boards, I can attest to the fact that 90 minutes is indeed a lofty goal! It is, however, achievable, using some tools to streamline the process.

One tool that I see used with great success is the consent agenda.

It is designed to free the board’s time for discussing matters the board can actually influence (i.e. the future). It can eliminate the time spent reviewing what has happened in the past: things the board can do nothing about. It encompasses all the things the board would normally approve with little comment. This would include items like the minutes of the previous meeting, the formal approval of a contract that has already been thoroughly discussed in past meetings, committee reports that contain no actions, and anything else deemed as “for information only” by the board chair and the head of school/superintendent/principal.

This device is used by many boards to great effect. It is not free from controversy, however, mainly from a culture that likes to over-discuss items, committee members who suddenly see their pet project moved to an “after the fact” report with no time for discussion, or that one board member who feels the need to comment on every item on the agenda. From a leader’s perspective, the use of the consent agenda may take some time and intentionality to educate the board. By discussing the purpose of the consent agenda and slowly integrating into board policy, board members can learn to trust the process and see the benefits.

Use of a consent agenda also requires discipline. Items on the consent agenda need to be provided to the board members well prior to the meeting so they can come prepared to approve the consent agenda OR ask for an item to come off the consent agenda for discussion. This is something a board member should let their board chair know about BEFORE the meeting, so board members must come to meetings prepared.

Time is valuable. Having given up a great portion of my life as a leader sitting in board meetings, I recommend the use of this governance tool to allow you to spend more time on items that can have a positive effect on the future of your school.

– Joel Westa

Leave a Comment

Filed under Governance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *