The School Board Meeting Survival Guide

Four hours into Monday night’s school board meeting, I realized how unprepared I had been for what was turning out to be one of the longest meetings in the history of man.

Or, at least one of the longest I’ve had the dubious privilege to attend.

I was tired, hungry and, having already downed the last of my water ration, more than a little thirsty. Boredom had long since set in, and my derriere was, frankly, numb from sitting for so long.

Little did I know at that point that I’d still have another hour and a half to go before the meeting would finally be adjourned. More than adequate time to lament my inadequate planning, and vow to never let it happen again.

As I sat, waiting out the second executive session of the evening – which lasted a whopping four hours, and came on the heels of a one-hour closed door session at the start of the meeting – I began to sketch out a list of must-have’s for future board meetings.

I call it my School Board Meeting Survival Guide.

And rather than keep this precious and timely information to myself, I’ve decided to share it for the good of all mankind.

To start, I’ve drawn up a list of necessities no meeting-goer should be without for your average, run-of-the-mill school board gathering.

You’ll want an agenda, of course, to make it easy to follow along. Since there aren’t always a sufficient number available on the day, it’s a good idea to check the school’s website prior to the meeting. Most post the agenda a day or so in advance, so you can have a look and print one out if you so desire. Plus, it will give you something to doodle on if you get bored.

I do recommend you bring your own pen and paper for this purpose, however. After all, you never know when you’re going to have a sudden urge to build a fleet of paper airplanes, or pass notes like you did in sixth grade study hall.

Or, you could always use them to actually take notes at the meeting. Although, lets be honest, what’s the fun in that?

Make sure you’ve got your cell phone handy, too. You may need it to text your friends begging for rescue, snap a photo of someone snoozing in the audience, or call to order a pizza if you get snacky.

But be sure to put the phone on vibrate before the meeting is called to order. Trust me on this, you definitely don’t want to be known as the one with the “Shoot you in the $#% with a B.B. gun” ringtone. Just ask the guy who installed our newsroom copy machine earlier this week. Talk about uncomfortable moments in the workplace!

Since not all of our local pizza parlors deliver, it’s best to make sure you come prepared with something to munch on, as more often than not, the meeting will conflict with your regular meal time. Chocolate is, of course, my first choice. Not only is it yummy, but it also contains enough caffeine to see me through to the bitter end.

For the more health conscious, fruit is a good choice, as are mixed nuts and granola bars. Just make sure you don’t bring anything too messy. Or too crunchy for that matter, both for your sake as well as those around you.

Bring water, too. And, no, not just because vodka isn’t allowed on school grounds. You’ll want to stay hydrated to ward off unwarranted headaches.

For headaches caused by the meeting itself, bring your pain-reliever of choice.

Again, remember that alcohol is prohibited on school grounds.

I usually throw a cough drop or two, or hard candy, in my bag as well. They come in hand if your throat does get dry. Or to shut up the guy with the hacking cough you had the misfortune to sit next to.

Speaking of that guy – who probably doesn’t even have the decency to cover his mouth – don’t forget your hand sanitizer.

You’ll want to dress comfortably for the meeting, as well. I recommend layers. That way you’re fully prepared to adjust based on the ambient temperature, which can fluctuate during a meeting. Especially one which extends past the time when the school building’s HVAC system is programmed to cut off.

And get there early, so as to avoid being relegated to the cheap seats or “lawn seating” as I like to call it. These meetings are uncomfortable enough without having to stand or sit on the floor for the duration. Been there, done that. Never, ever again.

Now, these helpful tidbits will get you through a regular meeting, no problem. But you’ll need extra help to survive one of those standing-room-only, seemingly never-ending, one-executive-session-too-many jobs.

Trust me. I’ve weathered two in the last week alone. Which is why I’ve assembled an emergency kit, to be stashed in my trunk should the need arise.

The first thing I added was a camp chair. (See above.)

If you don’t have the trunk space available – or aren’t sure you’re comfortable with walking into a school board meeting with a chair slung over your arm – might I suggest a pillow, at the very least. Maybe one of those doughnut ones. You know, the one with the hole in the middle like your great aunt uses, much to your embarrassment.

Extra food and water are also a necessity, and you might consider a packet of No Doze, a can of Red Bull or some other legal stimulant. You might need it to keep your eyes open if the meeting stretches into the wee hours of the morn.

Have emergency contact information handy, in case you need to contact your spouse or babysitter in order to inform them you’ll be later than expected. Or in my case my boss, to let him know I might be a few minutes late in the morning.

And, just as when traveling overseas, make sure to have a supply of your prescription drugs handy. (Notice I said prescription drugs. The recreational variety aren’t allowed on campus any more than the vodka is.) For me, that’s my allergy meds. I usually take them at bedtime, which, in case you are wondering, is typically three hours or so earlier than Monday’s Oxford school board meeting got out. Now I’m all out of whack.

While we’re talking about Oxford, it might be worth mentioning executive sessions. Brief ones can be entertaining. They’re kind of like the seventh inning stretch. You get to stand up, walk around and socialize with others in the audience. But when those closed-door sessions stretch on for hours, the conference room starts to feel like purgatory. Or the drunk tank. (Not that I’ve seen the inside of one. I’m just going by what I’ve seen on TV and in movies. Honest.)

Bring reading material or your iPod, but be forewarned – you’ll look antisocial. It’s much better to bring along items which can be enjoyed by the group as a whole. Like a deck of cards, Catch Phrase or, my favorite, Jenga! Or what about a little “boom box,” as we called them in the 90s. Then you could have your own retro dance party. Or, even better, host a “School Board Idol” competition. Film it for all to enjoy using the digital video camera they use to record the meetings.

Everyone’s experience at a school board meeting is unique, but I’d thought I’d offer up these tips based on those I’ve attended in my nearly two years with The Evening Sun. (Thinking of all those meetings, it feels a lot longer ...) I hope they’ll come in handy, for board of ed meeting newbies and veterans, alike.

If you have any suggestions or tips of your own, feel free to share. I think you can probably figure out how to track me down. Everyone knows if there’s a school board meeting going on, I’ll likely be at it.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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