A four-part series originally published in the SLATE magazine in June 2013, August 2013, December 2013, and March 2014.
By Karen Echeverria
ISBA Executive Director
During the 2014 Legislative session, it became apparent to me that not all of our members understand how ISBA’s legislative platform is established. I thought I would some time discussing that process and how it works.
Who Can Submit a Resolution?
Any school board member, a school district, or an ISBA Region can submit a resolution to the ISBA. Those resolutions are submitted to the ISBA office and staff.
When Do Resolutions Need to be Submitted and What Happens Once They are Submitted?
Resolutions need to be submitted no later than July 31 of each year. Why so early? The ISBA Bylaws require that all resolutions be forwarded to all school board members at least 30 days in advance of the Annual Business Session. The Business Session is sometime in early November. As such, the ISBA staff needs to forward all resolutions to all our school board members no later than early October. The ISBA Executive Board meets in early September and makes recommendations on the resolutions. Prior to that meeting, ISBA staff reviews the resolutions and works with local school districts to make edits or to combine them with other school district resolutions that may be similar in nature.
Once the staff has the resolutions ready, they are submitted to the Government Affairs Committee who reviews them, makes further recommendations, and then sends them to the full Board for review – thus the need for a submission on July 31 of each year.
What Happens Once Resolutions are Reviewed by the ISBA Executive Board?
During their fall Executive Board meeting, the Executive Board makes recommendations on all submitted resolutions. The Executive Board may decide to make a recommendation of pass or do not pass. However, it is important to understand that ALL resolutions are voted on by the members of ISBA. Once the recommendation is made, ISBA staff adds the recommendation to each resolution. Those resolutions are then forwarded to all the members. That is done via email to the most recent email address we have on file for you.
What Should Board Members do Once They Receive the Resolutions?
We recommend that all boards discuss the resolutions at a Board meeting. Why do you need to do that? The ISBA recognizes that every member of your board may not be able to make it to the Annual Business Session. As such, the Bylaws allow one member of your board to vote all the votes that are allowed for your school district.
If you have the opportunity as a board to discuss the resolutions, then whoever attends the Annual Business Session will understand the wishes of their full board and can debate or vote accordingly. Then assign at least one board member to attend the Business Session and vote for their entire board.
Who is Allowed to Vote on ISBA Resolutions?
The ISBA bylaws allow for each school district member of ISBA to deliberate and vote on resolutions. There is a formula in the bylaws that allows for a block of votes for each school district. That block is based on several strata of student populations.
I should note that there is a committee that is currently reviewing the bylaw as it relates to voting and there may be a proposed amendment to that particular bylaw. Even if an amendment is proposed, there will still be a block of votes for each school district.
Does That Mean That Each Board Member is Allowed to Vote Individually?
Yes and no. Each school district is given one ballot. That ballot allows for each school district to have a block of votes. The school district can choose to vote their entire block as a no vote, a yes vote, or split the vote. So, if the individuals on any particular board are not in agreement with their votes, they can split the votes on their ballot.
When Does Debate and Voting Occur?
Debate and voting occurs during the Business Session at the Annual Convention.
Does the School District Need to Be Present to Debate and/or Vote?
Yes. At least one board member from the district needs to be present, in person, in order for the school district to cast a ballot. One board member can vote the entire block for the entire board. Any and all board members can debate any given resolution. Each person who wishes to debate is allowed three minutes to express their opinion. That same person can speak a second time after all other members who wish to speak have been given that opportunity. Each resolution can only be debated for thirty minutes total.
Can Anyone Besides a Board Member Debate For or Against a Resolution?
Yes. However, a board member must first come to the microphone and ask that their time be yielded to another person. For instance, a board member may ask that they yield their time to their superintendent. It is important to remember that if the superintendent speaks on behalf of a board member that the board member would then not be allowed another three minutes for themselves – they have also yielded their own time.
Can a Board Vote by Proxy?
No. There is no provision in the ISBA bylaws that will allow for a proxy vote. I presume the reason for that is because much debate and deliberation occurs on the floor of the Business Session. If board members are present during the Business Session to hear the debate and discussion, they may change their votes based on that discussion. Therefore, in order for a board to have a voice in the resolution process, at least one member from that board needs to be present at the Business Meeting to case the votes for the entire board.
Should the Entire Board Review the Resolutions Prior to the Business Session?
Yes. If the entire board is unable to attend the convention, it is important for the board to discuss the resolutions prior to the Business Session. During that discussion, the entire board can direct those members who will be attending the Business Session how they wish them to cast the votes on their ballot. Without a discussion by the entire board, the members in attendance will simply vote as they wish which may not necessarily be how other members of their local board may feel.
When Are the Voting Results Tabulated and Reported to the Membership?
Tabulations and voting occur during the Business Session. ISBA staff tabulates the votes as soon as debate ends for each resolution. Most results are available to those in attendance before the Business Session is over. The last one or two resolution results that may not have been completed at the conclusion of the Business Session are announced at the next General Session.
For those board members who were unable to attend the Business Session, ISBA staff sends a formal email sometime after the Annual Convention that identifies the outcome of all resolutions.
What Happens With the Resolutions Once They Pass or Fail?
If a resolution fails, it does not move any further. The school district or region who originally submitted the resolution may choose to resubmit it the following year or they may drop the idea altogether.
If a resolution passes, it will be in effect for two years. Some legislation will require ISBA staff to work with another state agency, some will require rulemaking, and some will require legislation. The ISBA staff will work with the school district and the ISBA attorneys to craft rules or legislation that outlines the elements contained in the resolution or to work with the other agency. Those resolutions that were passed will then become ISBA’s legislative platform for the next two years or until they are passed.
What Happens As Soon As the Business Session is Over?
ISBA staff begins working on the passed resolutions. We determine what action, if any, is required. Some resolutions will require that we write legislation, some will require that we support legislation, and some will require that we oppose legislation.
How Do We Determine if We Need to Craft Legislation?
The outcome of each resolution requires a different action from ISBA staff. Some resolutions only require ISBA to oppose legislation. An example is a resolution stating ISBA will oppose any legislation which will allow for any further tax cuts that could impact the finances of the school district. In this case, ISBA would oppose any such legislation that may be brought forward, but we would not craft any legislation.
Some resolutions require support from ISBA, but do not require us to craft legislation. An example would be a resolution which states that ISBA would support increased funding to local school districts. All funding legislation is crafted by the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC). JFAC debates and votes on the funding legislation. There is no opportunity for outside entities to craft this kind of legislation. Instead, we would work with members of JFAC to help them understand the importance of increased funding and to assure that some level of that is added to the funding legislation. Again, we would not write the legislation, but work with those who do. This would be supporting the resolution the membership passed.
I have also seen resolutions that require ISBA staff to work with another State agency, but did not require legislation. For instance, we currently have a resolution dealing with the sick leave payout for employees in districts on four day work weeks. We are working with the Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) to see if we can find a solution. This may or may not eventually require legislation, but, at this point, it does not. We hope we can resolve it through the rulemaking process with PERSI.
Most remaining resolutions require that we craft legislation to support the intent of the resolution. That process is a little more complex and time consuming.
What is the First Step in Writing Legislation?
In almost all cases, we ask our attorneys to craft the actual legislation. We do this because they understand the ramifications of certain wording in the law. We discuss with them the debate we heard on the floor of the Business Session – both pro and con – so they understand the intent and concerns that were expressed.
Our attorneys begin crafting the language of the legislation. They oftentimes work with the attorneys at Legislative Services as well as the State Department of Education. In doing so, we strive for legislation that is legally defensible and still meets the intent of the resolution.
We discuss and revise the legislation until we have a product that passes the scrutiny of our attorneys and still meets the intent of the resolution.
What is a Sponsor and where do you find one?
Our next step is to find a sponsor for the legislation. In order for us to have the legislation printed, we need to have a legislative sponsor. Only a Legislator can bring legislation forward. No other organization can do that. So, in order to have our legislation printed, we need to secure a legislative sponsor.
We try to secure a legislative sponsor prior to the beginning of the year or, at the very least, prior to the beginning of the legislative session. We ask the submitting school district(s) to help us find both a Senator and Representative that would be willing to sponsor the legislation. We ask for both a Senator and a Representative because the legislation will need to be heard in both chambers. We ask the submitting school district(s) to contact their local legislators because they are more likely to sponsor legislation that comes from their local school districts and addresses issues impacting their legislative districts.
Getting the Legislation Printed
Once we obtain sponsors for the legislation, we take it to the legislative bill drafters in the Legislative Services Office. They take the legislation we have drafted and put it into “bill” form. A “bill” is just the formal term for the actual legislation. The bill contains a Statement of Purpose and a Fiscal Note, both of which we also craft. The bill is given an RS (routing slip) number and returned to the sponsor. Even though ISBA staff took the legislation to the bill drafter, they cannot return it to us. It can only be returned to the sponsor.
Once it is returned to the sponsor, we work with the sponsor and the Chair of either the House or Senate Education Committee (Committee) to schedule the RS for a print hearing.
Presenting the Bill, Debate, and Vote
Once the bill is printed, it comes back before the same Committee that agreed to print the bill. This is when ISBA staff “presents” the bill. Essentially, we go through the bill section by section and explain to members of the Committee what is contained in the bill. At the same time, we discuss the need for the bill and what the bill will do should it be passed. We also include information about ISBA, who we represent, and explain that the legislation is an outcome of the resolution that was passed by the membership. The Committee will ask questions of the staff person presenting the bill. In addition, this is the time that anyone else can sign up to testify on the bill, either in favor of or in opposition to the bill. After all testimony has been taken, ISBA staff then has the opportunity to make closing remarks. When I testify I always try to address the concerns, if any, that were raised in opposition to the bill or to answer any questions that came during the other testimony. Finally, I always ask for their positive vote. Many people forget that part of testimony – you always have to ask for their support.
Once we are done with our closing comments, the Committee will debate among themselves. Motions are made, and then they vote on the bill. If it passes out of the Committee, it will go to the floor of the House or Senate for consideration and, if passed in that chamber, the same process will be followed in the opposite chamber.
One Last Hurdle
If the bill passes both chambers, there is one last hurdle. The Governor needs to sign the bill. Of course the Governor can also always veto the bill instead. Alternately, the Governor can let the bill become law without his signature. If the Governor signs the bill or allows the bill to become law without his signature, the next phase is implementation.
Once a resolution is passed, the goal is to work to turn that resolution into reality. Each year, ISBA staff and lobbyists are successful in getting laws passed that relate to resolutions passed by the ISBA membership. Those new laws assist school districts with the issues that were outlined in the original resolutions. Once passed, it is likely that school districts and charter schools will then need to take some action at the local level. While the work at the Legislature is over, the work at the school district level is just beginning.
When Does the Law Go Into Effect?
Most new laws go into effect on July 1 of the year they were passed. That gives school districts time from when the law was passed until July 1 to do the work at the school district level to be ready to implement the elements of the new law.
However, there are times when laws go into effect immediately or retroactively. When that occurs, it is because there is some sort of emergency that requires it or because making the law effective in the current fiscal year is in the best interest of the State or those involved. Emergency clauses make it more difficult for school districts because they need to make changes at the school district level immediately. There is no time to plan or get prepared.
How Do Districts Learn About What Has Changed?
There are several ways that board members can stay informed.
During the legislative session, I write an update every week of what is happening during the legislative session. Those updates can be found in the Capitol Notes posted to our website and sent to members of ISBA via email on Monday morning in the ISBA Voice. If you read those on a regular basis you will know what has passed and what has not passed. The last issue of Capitol Notes contains a synopsis of all legislation and whether or not it passed.
The State Department of Education (SDE) does a “Post Legislative Tour” in the spring every year. Staff from the SDE travel around the State to specific locations where they discuss every piece of legislation that passed and the impact on local school districts. If at all possible, I recommend that you attend the one in your area. If you cannot attend, it is important that someone from your school district attend – your superintendent, business manager, board clerk, administrators, and/or another board member.
Will the New Law Cause Changes at the District Level?
Yes, depending on the nature of the legislative change, it will undoubtedly mean changes at the district level. Those changes come in many forms. It could be something as simple as a change in funding or something as complicated as how you do your superintendent’s evaluation, allow for dual credit courses, or how to deal with negotiations.
The new laws could also direct the SDE to craft administrative rules. If that is the case, it could be a few more months before you need to implement changes.
If your district is a member of ISBA’s Policy Service, we will craft new model policies to help your district comply with the new laws. We encourage you to review and adopt the policies as soon as possible so your district can move forward with the new laws and to be in compliance.
Where Can You Go for Help to Make Sure You are in Compliance?
Once again there are several answers to that.
Ultimately, it is up to you, your superintendent, business manager, board clerk, and administrators to stay informed. You can do that by following the steps outlined above:
I hope this series has been helpful to you as a board member and that it helped to clarify the resolution to legislation process. Because ISBA has been so successful with our initiatives, it is important for school board members to understand that the resolution process is one of the most important parts of the ISBA Annual Convention.