School Trustees - thrown in the deep end? by Stewart Russell
Trustees are also responsible for the curriculum taught in the school as well as employing the school principal, teachers and support staff. And trustees are responsible for all property and financial matters, and for ensuring that the school premises are a safe environment for students, staff and visitors.
But don’t panic - trustees are not expected to be experts in teaching, education, employment law, finances or health and safety. Most of the work which they are responsbile for will be delegated to the principal, who in turn may delegate it to other team members or advisers.
Trustees’ role is governance of the school, they should not be getting involved with the day-to-day management of the school.
Trustees need to be asking questions to ensure that tasks they have delegated are being performed properly. Remember, trustees can delegate the task but they cannot delegate their responsbility.
Even at the smallest of schools, they will have control of several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayers’ money. They are responsible for ensuring that this money is spent in the best way to enable every student to realise their potential.
There is no bottomless pit of money. You can only spend the dollar once. So for every dollar you spend on boys’ writing, there is one dollar less to spend on mathematics.
The board has the unenviable task of priortising spending and setting a budget.
NZ School Trustee Association (NZSTA) offers many free training courses and seminars for trustees to help guide trustees through this journey.
In my first term of office I attended a number of these. The most valuable outcome from these courses was the connection with other trustees around the Far North, as well as sharing ideas and experiences which we could all take back to our respective schools and kura.
This will sound a bit like a broken record, but providing trustees focus on their decision-making to ensure every student has the opportunity to realise their full potential, they cannot go far wrong.
Finally and most importantly, do not be scared of asking the difficult questions. Trustees are responsible for the governance of the school and therefore need to understand what is happening. Do not be fobbed off by the principal or another trustee. If you do not understand the answer, for whatever reason, ask them to explain further.
On behalf of the future of your tamariki, I thank you for standing up and putting yourself forward. Good luck for the rest of your three year term and remember, if you need help, chat with one of your fellow school trustees or NZSTA.
We are considering running a free seminar for school trustees to help them understand their school’s financial reports, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.