SUPERINTENDENT'S BOND & OATH
The superintendent shall take an oath before a proper officer that he/she will support the Constitution of the United States and the state of Washington and faithfully perform the duties of the office. The oath shall be filed with the ESD superintendent. In a first-class school district, the board of directors is to fix and require the superintendent, as secretary of the board, to give bond in a sum of not less than five thousand dollars. (RCW 28A.330.060)
NOTIFY ESD, SECRETARY TO BOARD
Every school district superintendent in districts of the second class (under 2000-enrollment) shall within 10 days after a change in the office of the chair of board or superintendent, notify the ESD superintendent of such change. (RCW 28A.330.210) The superintendent shall serve as secretary to the board in the districts of the second class. (RCW 28A.330.200)
When a district of the second class is without a superintendent and the business of the district necessitates action by the superintendent, the board shall appoint any member to carry out the superintendent duties for a temporary time period. (RCW 28A.330.200)
FILING OF SIGNATURE
(See Forms C, D, and E) Every school district superintendent on assuming the duties of the office shall place their signature, certified by some school district official, on file with the office of the county auditor. (RCW 28A.400.020) Any official (i.e. anyone given the power to act in a certain capacity) of the school district, after filing with the secretary of state his/her manual signature certified by him/her under oath, may execute or cause to be executed with a facsimile signature in lieu of a manual signature: (1) any public security; or (2) any instrument of payment. (RCW 39.62.020). (See RCW 28A.330.230 regarding warrants and secretary of board signature for districts of the second class and RCW 28A.330.080 for districts of the first class.)
BOARD AUTHORIZATIONS TO CONDUCT NORMAL BUSINESS
School boards are empowered to delegate certain authorities to the superintendent which allow daily business to be conducted.
New Member or Vacancy on the Board of Directors
Persons are eligible to serve as members of a school district board of directors when they are (1) citizens of the United States and the state of Washington, and (2) a registered voter of the school district or director district as the case may be. (RCW 28A.343.340)
OATH, EFFECTIVE DATE
(See Form A) Every person elected or appointed to the office of school director, before discharging of duties shall take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the state of Washington and to faithfully discharge the duties of the office. The oath shall be endorsed on written appointments or commissions and sworn before any officer authorized to administer oaths, school official being authorized to administer oaths pertaining to their respective offices without charge or fee. All oaths shall be filed with the county auditor. Every elected member of the board of directors assumes office at the first official meeting of the board following certification of the election results. (RCW 28A.343.360)
BOARD VACANCIES, ESD ROLE
Vacancies for any reason in a board member position are filled by appointment of the remaining board members where there is still a legal majority of board members. Where there are less than a legal majority of board members on the local school district board, the ESD board by majority vote will appoint a sufficient number to constitute a legal majority. Should a local school board fail to fill a vacancy by appointment within 90 days, the ESD board by majority vote will appoint to fill the vacancy. All appointees must meet the qualifications of elected board members. Board members who have resigned may not vote on their replacement. (RCW 28A.343.370)
Board members may authorize the receipt and waiver of compensation for the performance of duties as board members at a rate not to exceed fifty dollars ($50) per day or prorate thereof and not in excess of forty-eight hundred dollars ($4,800) per year. Such payments must come from locally collected excess property tax levy money, and such compensation cannot cause the state to incur any present or future funding obligation. Such compensation is in addition to reimbursement for expenses. (RCW 28A.343.400) The IRS has opined that such compensation is not wages in the traditional sense and is therefore not subject to income tax withholding and social security contributions. However, it is taxable income to the individual; therefore, W-9 forms for contractors are needed.
See also references to contracts under "Conflict of Interest" below.
SIGNING LEGAL DOCUMENTS
There are many statutes specifically requiring the signature of the board members, board chairman, or the superintendent on certain documents or in certain situations. The superintendent as the delegated representative has authority to sign most documents on behalf of the board and or district. Generally, the superintendent cannot delegate their signature responsibility. Experience is the best teacher. Alternatively, follow the advice of legal counsel, or ask the ESD to research the situation.
The office of school director is subject to the campaign finance reporting requirements of the Public Disclosure Law. School superintendents who contact legislators may or may not need to register as a lobbyist, depending on the nature of the discussions and positions advocated.
No elective official nor any employee of his office nor any person appointed to or employed by any public office or agency may use or authorize the use of any of the facilities of a public office or agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition.
Facilities of public office or agency include, but are not limited to, use of stationery, postage, machines, and equipment, use of employees of the office or agency during working hours, vehicles, office space, publications of the office or agency, and clientele lists of persons served by the office or agency.
School district employees and school directors can provide information pertinent to ballot issues that relate to the district, including levy and bond issues. Information provided shall not directly tell the audience to vote or act in a certain way, rather, the communication must be factual to the subject and provide the recipient with pertinent information in order to make a decision.
EXCEPTIONS TO PROHIBITIONS
The foregoing provisions of this section shall not apply to the following activities:
Action taken at an open public meeting by members of an elected legislative body or by an elected board, council, or commission of a special purpose district including, but not limited to, fire districts, public hospital districts, library districts, park districts, port districts, public utility districts, school districts, sewer districts, and water districts, to express a collective decision, or to actually vote upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance, or to support or oppose a ballot proposition so long as:
- (a) any required notice of the meeting includes the title and number of the ballot proposition, and
- (b) members of the legislative body, members of the board, council, or commission of the special purpose district, or members of the public are afforded an approximately equal opportunity for the expression of an opposing view;
- A statement by an elected official in support of or in opposition to any ballot proposition at an open press conference or in response to a specific inquiry;
- Activities which are part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency.
Conflict of Interest (Superintendent and Board Members)
Conflict of interest statutes apply to all elected and appointed officials of school districts. While it is clear they apply to board members, it is an interpretation as to who may be an “appointed” official. The superintendent or any other official delegated in any capacity to act on behalf of the board is probably an appointed official. This is especially true if they have the authority to bind the district by contract.
- No municipal officer may use his or her position to secure special privileges or exemptions for himself, herself, or others.
- No municipal officer may, directly or indirectly, give or receive or agree to receive any compensation, gift, reward, or gratuity from a source except the employing municipality, for a matter connected with or related to the officer’s services as such an officer unless otherwise provided for by law.
- No municipal officer may accept employment or engage in business or professional activity that the officer might reasonably expect would require or induce him or her by reason of his or her official position to disclose confidential information acquired by reason of his or her official position.
- No municipal officer may disclose confidential information gained by reason of the officer’s position, nor may the officer otherwise use such information for his or her personal gain or benefit.
EXCEPTIONS TO PROHIBITIONS
Situations which are deemed not to be conflicts for school officials are:
- The designation of public depositories for municipal monies;
- The publication of legal notices required by law to be published by any municipality, upon competitive bidding or at rates not higher than prescribed by law for members of the general public;
- The designation of a school director as clerk or as both clerk and purchasing agent of a school district;
- The employment of any person by a municipality for unskilled day labor at wages not exceeding $200.00 in any calendar month. The exception provided in this subsection does not apply to a first class school district;
- (a) The letting of any other contract in which the total amount received under the contract or contracts by the municipal officer or the municipal officer’s business does not exceed $1,500.00 in any calendar month. (b) The exceptions provided in this subsection do not apply to a sale or lease by the municipality as the seller or lessor. (c) The municipality shall maintain a list of all contracts that are awarded under this subsection. The list must be made available for public inspection and copying;
- The letting of any employment contract for the driving of a school bus in a second class school district if the terms of such contract are commensurate with the pay plan or collective bargaining agreement operating in the district;
- The letting of any employment contract as a substitute teacher or substitute educational aide to an officer of a second-class school district that has two hundred or fewer full-time equivalent students, if the terms of the contract are commensurate with the pay plan or collective bargaining agreement operating in the district and the board of directors has found, consistent with written policy, under 28A.330.340, that there is a shortage of substitute teachers in the school district;
- The letting of any employment contract to the spouse of an officer of a school district, when such contract is solely for employment as a substitute teacher for the school district. This exception applies only if the terms of the contract are commensurate with the pay plan or collective bargaining agreement applicable to all district employees and the board of directors has found, consistent with the written policy under RCW 28A.330.240, that there is a shortage of substitute teachers in the school district; and
- The letting of any employment contract to the spouse of an officer of a school district if the spouse was under contract as a certificated or classified employee with the school district before the date in which the officer assumes office and the terms of the contract are commensurate with the pay plan or collective bargaining agreement operating in the district. However, in a second class school district that has less than two hundred full-time equivalent students enrolled at the start of the school year as defined in RCW 28A.150.040, the spouse is not required to be under contract as a certificated or classified employee before the date on which the officer assumes office.
- A municipal officer may not vote in the authorization, approval, or ratification of a contract in which he or she is beneficially interested even though one of the exemptions allowing the awarding of such a contract applies. The interest of the municipal officer must be disclosed to the governing body of the municipality and noted in the official minutes or similar records of the municipality before the formation of the contract.
All elected and appointed officers of a school district shall not be deemed interested in a contract if they have only a remote interest in the contract, such interest is disclosed to the board of directors, such interest is noted specifically in the official minutes or records of the district prior to entering into the contract, and the board approves the contract without the vote of the remote-interest official. Remote interest is:
- A non-salaried officer of a non-profit corporation;
- An employee or agent of contractor where the compensation of the employee or agent is entirely fixed wages or salary;
- A landlord or tenant of a contracting party;
- A holder of less than one percent (1%) of the shares of the contracting party.
Open, Public, Executive and Non-open Meetings
REGULAR MEETINGS: MAINTAINING PUBLIC TRUST
Representative democracy relies on the informed trust of the citizens. One of the critical places for school boards to work to retain the informed trust of their communities is in the conduct of meetings that are effectively run, meet the requirements of the law and address the reasonable expectations of the citizenry. The public’s trust is too delicate for school board members and administrators to proceed without a sophisticated and legally grounded understanding of public meeting requirements.
Washington School District Directors’ Association (WSSDA) publishes a document which addresses the Open Public Meetings Act, other legal requirements, and nonlegal issues surrounding effective and responsive public meetings. This is written exclusively from the perspective of school districts and school boards. It should be used as a resource to help dispel inaccurate common knowledge and practice, and to increase sophisticated compliance with the law and public trust.
How do we establish a regular meeting? The board is required by state law to adopt a board policy that identifies the date, time, and place of the board’s regular meetings.
We established a regular meeting schedule at the beginning of the school year, but now we want to change it. What do we do? The board must amend the board policy to identify the new dates, times and places of the board meetings.
We need to cancel our regularly scheduled meeting because we do not have a quorum. What should we do? If the board knows more than 24 hours in advance, the meeting should be canceled and rescheduled as a special meeting.
Parts of board meetings can be held without the public. These portions of the meeting are called executive sessions. If the board is going into executive session, the president or chair must announce the general purpose of the session and how long it will last. If the executive session runs longer, the president or chair must make another announcement extending the session.
The minutes should reflect the executive session and the general purpose if it was extended and when it ended. A detailed record of the executive session should not be made. Despite the confidentiality of the matters discussed in executive session, any record of the session is subject to disclosure under the state public records act.
There are 15 statutory reasons for an executive session; 7 do not apply to school boards. Of the 8 remaining, one of the following must apply to the circumstances for a school board to exclude the public from its meeting:
- Matters affecting national security; or, if in compliance with any required data security breach disclosure under RCW 19.255.010 and 42.56.590, and with legal counsel available, information regarding the infrastructure and security of computer and telecommunications networks, security and service recovery plans, security risk assessments, and security test results to the extent that they identify specific system vulnerabilities, and other information that if made public may increase the risk to the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of agency security or to information technology infrastructure or assets;
- The selection of a site or the acquisition of real estate if public knowledge of the matter might increase the price;
- The minimum selling price of real estate if public knowledge of the matter might depress the price, but final action selling or leasing real estate must be taken in a public meeting;
- Negotiations on the performance of a publicly bid contract if public knowledge might increase costs;
- Complaints or charges against an employee or board member; however, the person complained against may open the meeting to the public;
- Qualifications of an applicant for public employment or review of the performance of a public employee, but final actions must be taken in public and discussions affecting employees generally must be held in public;
- Qualifications of a candidate for appointment to elective office, but interviews and the final appointment must be held in public; and
- Discussion with legal counsel, of enforcement actions, litigation or potential litigation, if public discussion might result in an adverse legal or financial consequence. Amendments in 2001 provided a specific definition of potential litigation.
Any meeting of the board that is not a regular meeting as set out in the board’s policy for day, time, and place, is a special meeting. A special meeting of the board may be called by the president or chair of the school board, or by a majority of the board.
Each member must receive written notice, either through the mail or personally delivered, at least 24 hours before the meeting. Any radio or television station or newspaper may file with the district a request to be notified of special meetings of the board. Any media outlet that has fled such a request must receive the same notification as board members, within 24 hours of the meeting. The notice requirements may be waived by any board member and are considered waived if the board member attends the meeting, even without official notice.
The notification must include the time, place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted. In the case of a special meeting, an agenda, or a list of the business to be transacted, is required in advance of the meeting. This is not a requirement for regular meetings. The board cannot take final action at a special meeting on any matter not on the original notice and agenda. There is no similar restriction on regular meeting actions; those agendas may be amended to add new items even during the meeting.
A special meeting can be held for the purpose of holding an executive session. The meeting notice should state the general reason for the executive session. The special meeting is called to order, the president or chair announces the board is going into executive session, and the meeting can proceed. The minutes are brief, showing when the meeting was called to order, who was present, the general purpose for the executive session and any actions taken by the board, if any, when they return to open session.
OTHER NON-OPEN MEETINGS
One thing that is not well understood is that a board discussion about strategies for collective bargaining negotiations is exempt from the open public meetings requirements. Chapter 42.30 RCW does not apply to: collective bargaining sessions with employee organizations, including contract negotiations, grievance meetings, and discussions relating to the interpretation or application of a labor agreement; or that portion of a meeting during which the governing body is planning or adopting the strategy or position to be taken by the governing body during the course of any collective bargaining, professional negotiations, or grievance or mediation proceedings, or reviewing the proposals made in the negotiations or proceedings while in progress. Such meetings do not need to be advertised.
There are additional exemptions from open public meetings which may apply to school districts (see RCW 42.30.140). In particular, when the board meets regarding a quasi-judicial matter between named parties, as distinguished from a matter having a general effect on the public or a class or group (such as a student disciplinary hearing) such a meeting would be exempt from the open public meetings requirement.
State law requires that each locally elected official and statewide elected official, and each person appointed to fill a vacancy in a local or statewide office, must complete basic open government training regarding open public meetings and public records and records retention requirements within 90 days of assuming office as well as refresher training at intervals of no more than four years for as long as the elected or appointed official holds office.
OFFICE OF PROFESSIONAL PRACTICES
The Office of Professional Practices, a division under the auspices of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, is charged with enforcement, including the discipline of educational practitioners for violation of the Professional Code of Conduct. The office receives, investigates, and makes legal findings regarding complaints. A nine-member professional advisory committee reviews appeals from proposed disciplinary actions. Educators who violate the code may be reprimanded or their license to practice may be suspended or revoked. The Office of Professional Practices also reviews charges that an applicant for or the holder of professional certification lacks good moral character or personal fitness. These standards are set forth in WAC 181-86-013 and address commission of criminal acts and other behavior which endanger children. Commission of criminal acts may not be directly related to professional conduct but they do reflect upon the trustworthiness of serving as a professional educator.
ROLE OF THE ESD SUPERINTENDENT
ESD superintendents sometimes receive Code of Conduct complaints directly from citizens. WAC 181-86-105 covers the ESD superintendent’s role and responsibility with such complaints. Should the ESD superintendent receive a complaint and determine that it warrants an investigation, he will consult with the district superintendent to determine the preferred course of action. Either the district superintendent or the ESD superintendent may conduct the investigation, but there is no requirement to duplicate investigations.