February advocacy tip: Use board resolutions effectively

The WASB has often encouraged school boards to adopt resolutions on various topics as part of a board’s legislative advocacy.   From time to time, the WASB provides sample board resolutions on specific topics.  We also post resolutions adopted by local school boards on our “Boards Taking Action” webpage.

Here’s some advice on how to ensure that your board resolutions will be part of an effective strategy in influencing your lawmakers:

Adopting a board resolution is not the end of the conversation on the subject of that resolution.  Rather, it is the beginning of the conversation–with your board, your community and the legislators who represent your community.  How far-reaching and influential your board’s resolution as an advocacy vehicle largely depends on what you do after you adopt it.

In other words, while board resolutions are important and official acts of your locally elected school board, resolutions on their own without follow-up are not effective as legislative advocacy tools.  To truly be effective, your board (or district administrator) needs to follow-up with your legislators once you have adopted the resolution to explain:

  • why the subject of the resolution is important to your board and your district;
  • why your board took the time and trouble to draft and adopt it;  and
  • what you want your legislator to do in response to your resolution.

Board resolutions CAN and DO serve a very useful purpose, in that they can be a vehicle to help promote greater awareness on the part of board members, the public and legislators of an issue or concern; however, they aren’t an end in and of themselves.  They are the beginning of the conversation.  Your board needs to follow up with each of your legislators or his or her staff to explain the importance of the resolution and why you adopted it

Some legislative staff members have never served as locally elected officials, and may not be familiar with the use of resolutions as a vehicle for local governing bodies to express their viewpoints on issues.  They are likely more familiar with resolutions that are commemorative in nature.

Often, the resolutions adopted by our state legislature in the typical format (i.e., the “whereas…, whereas…, therefore…” format) represent symbolic efforts to mark special occasions or accomplishments by constituents (think about resolutions recognizing a long-time local official’s retirement, the state champion girl’s basketball team, the 100th anniversary of a longtime local business firm, etc.).  As a result, in some cases your resolution may not necessarily be taken as seriously as it should be by your lawmaker’s inexperienced office staff.  That is why follow-up and patience are important.

In addition to explaining what your board’s position on the issue is and why the position stated by the resolution is important to your board, it may also be useful for you to explain that in order to take an official action, a school board must do so by a majority vote of a quorum of members at a duly noticed public meeting.  The resolution provides official evidence that you took a particular position and that all of the procedural requirements  necessary for you to do so were met.

Be aware also that for legislative staff who are accustomed to responding to emails/letters that are clearly from individual constituents, it can also be confusing for them to know exactly to whom they should respond when they receive a board resolution.  Often, it is the administrative assistant who sends these to the legislator’s office, but when the legislator’s office calls back or emails with questions about the resolution and the topic it addresses  or seeks more information about the topic of the resolution, it is not uncommon that the administrative assistant is unable to provide details.  That is yet another reason why it is important for someone on the board to follow up with your legislators.

Here are some additional tips to bolster the effectiveness of your board resolutions as advocacy vehicles:

  • Consider formatting your resolution as a letter or include a cover letter with a specified person (board president, board legislative liaison, etc.) for the your legislators to respond to. There is no legal requirement to format your resolution in the traditional “whereas…, therefore…” format.  How you word the resolution is entirely up to you.
  • Assign a board member to follow up with legislative offices after you have sent them your resolution. Check to make sure they received it and then summarize your board discussion from the meeting about why the issue is important to your school district.
  • Offer to provide additional information to your legislators if that would be helpful to their understanding of how the issue presented in the resolution affects your district.