Magazine article Momentum

Setting School Trustees Free to Do Their Job

Magazine article Momentum

Setting School Trustees Free to Do Their Job

Article excerpt

Board development program preserves and fuels expansion of Lasallian mission

Schools, hospitals and other social institutions founded and run by Catholic religious congregations continue to undergo developments in corporate structure and forms of governance. A change in concept from a religious congregation as the "owner and operator" of an institution to the concept of the religious order as its "sponsor" is becoming a standard way of expressing this.

A major piece of this development in Catholic education has been the separate incorporation of individual schools into legal entities that own their own assets and are governed by limited-jurisdiction boards of trustees, with certain powers reserved to the sponsoring congregation. According to recent NCEA statistics, 85.1 percent of U.S. Catholic schools have some form of a board or council.

Most religious congregations, of course, have long involved lay people in their educational missions on the operational level - as teachers, administrators and staff. The shift to including them on the governance level, however, is relatively new. A decade and more of experience with this new form of governance has shown that it entails great challenges and brings great benefits.

This article tells how one province of a long-established teaching order is facing the challenges and reaping the benefits. This is the District of San Francisco, the western province of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, more familiarly known as the De La Salle Christian Brothers. While this model works well for religious community sponsored schools, it is just one possible governance model for Catholic schools. There is no onesize-fits all model.

Eleven of the San Francisco district's 15 apostolates are secondary schools. In 1994, the district began separately incorporating its secondary schools and setting them up to be governed by local boards. The Christian Brothers continue to be the "moral owners" of the Lasallian educational mission and to have canonical responsibility for the schools. This responsibility - and a complementary sense of responsibility toward those colleagues who would undertake to serve as trustees - led the district to create a program for prospective trustees.

"Trusteeship is a ministry, and to succeed in ministry requires discernment, orientation, and preparation," said Robert Jordan of the district's office of education. "Since the creation of the Board Development Program in 1996, more than 300 participants have gone through the training and have helped us to continuously refine it."

The Board Development Program has received rave reviews from participants - among whom are not only prospective trustees but also the frontline administrators of the schools that these trustees govern. Throughout the nonprofit world, in every "public benefit" institution, the relationship between the governing board and the CEO is crucial. The Christian Brothers' Board Development Program faces this issue and other consequential issues directly, and provides the basis for a fruitful working relationship. This is affirmed by Matt Powell, now in his seventh year as president of De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon, who said, "This district is light years ahead in training trustees and presidents in their complementary roles." Mike Poppoff, a recently appointed trustee at La Salle High School of Yakima, Washington, added, "I have served on the boards of five different nonprofits, but none of those boards ever had any training or orientation up front. I was left trying to discern for myself their direction and purpose."

What is there to Learn?

Among the basic tenets of the Board Development Program are these:

* Trustees hold in trust for the Christian Brothers - and by extension for the worldwide Lasallian family - the Lasallian mission as expressed in their particular school. Trustees must therefore know well the mission for which they are governing. …

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