AESD Member Handbook
Congratulations on your new role as an Educational Service District (ESD) board member. Serving on an ESD board provides an opportunity to learn more about the exciting role played by ESDs in support of their local school districts, and to explore how ESDs fill a critical role within the larger system of education in Washington State. While most of your time and energy will be devoted to understanding your local ESD and the region you serve, we also encourage you to learn about the Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD) and how the AESD fills three important functions:
- ESD board member support services
- Coordination of shared services across the network of ESDs
- Partnership with OSPI and other educational support organizations
We have developed this handbook to support your orientation as a new ESD board member. Your local superintendent and their leadership team will work with you to develop a personalized plan that is intended to help you learn about your ESD and how you work in partnership with the superintendent to ensure quality service and support to your region.
Nothing can replace quality time spent with your fellow board members and local ESD leadership, but we hope this handbook will help you learn a bit more about the following topics:
- General responsibilities of ESD board members
- Board Roles
- Basics of superintendent evaluation
- Representing districts
- Open Public Meeting Act, executive sessions and public records
- History of ESDs
- Introduction to AESD
Handbook Development Team
Dana Anderson (Facilitator), ESD 113 – Capital Region
Terry Brandon (AESD Exec Board), ESD 123
Cliff Huenergard (AESD Exec Board), ESD 114 – Olympic
Merle Kirkley (AESD Exec Board), ESD 189 – Northwest
June Sine (AESD Exec Board), ESD 101- NorthEast Washington
Kristen Jaudon (Staff), ESD 113 – Capital Region
Jessica Vavrus (Staff), AESD Network
Sare Webster (Staff), AESD Network
Click on each section to expand the content.
Governing an ESD is an exciting and rewarding responsibility. As an ESD board member you have the chance to set the direction of your ESD and to determine the goals, or results that will be the focus of current and future ESD activities. In general, the board’s work centers in three major areas: 1) Policy approval, which clearly codifies the expectations for administrative procedures, 2) Fiscal accountability, including developing budget parameters, development timelines and adoption of the budget, and 3) Evaluation of the superintendent.
Typically, the board, superintendent and senior staff work in partnership to build a strategic vision for the ESD. The board works with their administrative team to determine the goals (ends) of the ESD, which helps to focus the organization’s long-term outcomes. The role of administration is to select strategies, or pathways (means) to achieve the board’s adopted goals. The easily expressed, but difficult to fully understand summary of these roles is ‘boards make policy and administration carries it out.’
This dynamic interplay between the board’s role (goals) and administration’s role (strategies) is the heart of the creative tension within organizational governance. The following questions may help clarify the roles of the board as compared to the roles of administration.
- Is the topic a big deal? The bigger the impact of the decision, the more the board should have a central role in the discussion and decision-making. Deciding to expand services into a specific area is likely a board decision. How to build new services and planning how to expand offerings is the role of administration.
- Is the area of exploration future-focused? The board should be continually exploring what the organization will look like in 3-5 years. The board’s finger-prints should be on the long-term plans of the organization. Administration should develop strategies and partner with the board to ensure they are informed about the means of moving toward the vision of the board.
- Is this issue central to the mission of the ESD? The board serves as the guardian of the ESD’s mission. The mission of the ESD and financial realities may occasionally come in conflict. The role of administration is to bring recommendations and thoughtful analysis to the board. The Board examines fiscal realities in light of the long-term mission of the ESD.
- Is policy needed to resolve the question at hand? The board establishes policy, which clarifies principles, guidelines and general practices. Management establishes procedures and practices to consistently implement the board’s policy framework.
- Is somebody else watching? The board should ensure the ESD has thoughtfully considered how to comply with expectations of various accountability groups (Legislature, IRS, DoH, Attorney General, etc.).
- Does the superintendent want and need your help? If the superintendent requests advice or support, the board should respond. When the superintendent is headed into difficult territory, they should ensure the board is informed, and if they need consistent support, the board should determine their plans for moving forward and stand firm.
Be sure to spend time becoming familiar with the board’s adopted policies. Especially those policies that speak to the board and superintendent roles. As part of your orientation, explore the strategic plan of the ESD with administration and talk with other board members about the history of the plan, the long-range focus of the ESD’s goals, and what role the board plays in reflection and review of outcomes.
The board chair presides over all meetings of the board and fills all duties and described by board policy. The orderly conduct of meetings is primarily the responsibility of the chair, with feedback from other board members regarding the balance of various voices and audiences during meetings. The board chair appoints other board members to serve on committees or fill other board roles as necessary. The superintendent and board chair work together to plan board meeting agendas. The board chair and superintendent reflect on the quality and effectiveness of communication between board and administration and adjust the frequency and content as needed.
The legislative liaison shares regular updates with their fellow board members regarding federal and state education-related legislation. As appropriate, the legislative liaison will encourage board colleagues to contact legislators on important issues related to the needs of the ESD.
The AESD representative serves as the voice of their local ESD board on the AESD Executive Board and keeps their local board informed of topics under consideration by the AESD. The AESD representative gathers feedback from their board regarding policies or topics under consideration by the AESD Executive Board and votes on issues as directed by their fellow board members.
Evaluating the Superintendent
One of the primary responsibilities of the board is to evaluate their superintendent. Each ESD has adopted policies regarding the timeline and criteria for superintendent evaluations. A quality evaluation is fair, legally defensible, and supportive of the continuous growth and development of the superintendent. Take time to meet with the superintendent to talk about the evaluation process and timelines. Explore with them and the board chair how your perspective is included in the evaluation process and what role you play in determining feedback provided to the superintendent.
Typically, the superintendent keeps the board informed of the timeline, relevant policies and contractual expectations of the evaluation process. During the annual review cycle the superintendent may provide the board with a written reflection of their goals for the year, their role in supporting the board and ESD missions and any evidence that may help the board determine areas of commendation or growth. Board members often provide formal or informal feedback to the chair, who will prepare a draft evaluation for board consideration. The performance review is generally held in an executive session and may be followed by board action in a public meeting.
Unlike local school board members, you are not elected by the public. ESD boards are elected by school board members within their region. While you must reside in a particular director district to be eligible to serve your ESD, you represent the values, views, and desires for ESD service for the ESD as a whole.
Remaining connected and aware of the constituents you represent can be a significant challenge. You may wish to attend local school board meetings to hear what challenges they are exploring. Regional meetings of the Washington School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) are also great opportunities to interact with and learn about local school board issues. Attending regional superintendent meetings can help you connect with district priorities.
Finally, encouraging the attendance of district leaders and school board members at your board meetings can help you prioritize their needs. Explore with your ESD leaders how you can connect with school boards and educational leaders across your region and what role is expected of you in the framing of your ESD focus and potential new, or expanded services.
Effective and ongoing communication is a critical element in establishing trust, establishing common vision, and building a strong sense of shared responsibility. Research conducted by National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) leaders as well as other education researchers clearly demonstrates how accountability, transparency, and involvement are fostered by strong communication between members of an educational community. As a new board member you should share your preferred means of communication and regularly connect with your board chair and superintendent your feedback regarding your communication needs.
As part of your role as an ESD board member you should consider developing strategies for establishing and maintaining meaningful, direct, and two-way communication with your constituents. As a board you may wish to share strategies that have helped members remain connected with their region’s educational leaders and practices that help share the message of the board with various audiences.
Good communication doesn’t just happen. It takes thought, planning, and skill to implement strategies and processes that inform and engage your constituents. Discuss with your board and administration the role of a strategic communications plan in helping to share your stories and understand the needs of your communities. The ESD’s communication plan is intended to dramatically increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your ESD’s communication efforts. As a board member it is helpful to know how ESD programs, publications, and activities support the board’s goals.
As a newly elected ESD board member you are responsible to maintain a high level of professional behaviors that are regulated by state law and professional practices. This professional behavior falls within four broad categories. They include: Open Public Meetings, Executive Sessions during meetings, Public Records Requests, and Conflicts of Interest. By keeping these areas in mind, your ESD board will assure transparency and keep the process open and accountable.
Open Public Meetings
The Washington Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), can be found in chapter 42.30 RCW. The OPMA requires that all meetings of ESDs (as a governing body) be open to the public. The Open Public Meetings Act was passed to assure that governmental affairs are accessible and responsive to the public. The OPMA and the Public Records Act (see below) are two tools that allow the citizens of Washington State to be informed on the workings of government. ESD boards fall under the requirements of OPMA.
Knowing and understanding the requirements of OPMA is an important part of your role as an ESD board member. Within RCW 42.30 you will find specific provisions regarding regular and special meetings, executive sessions, the types of notice that must be given for meetings, the conduct of meetings, and penalties and remedies for violations.
ESD board members do not need to be in physical presence to come under the requirements of OPMA. An email exchange or video conference such as Zoom meeting among a quorum of the ESD board in which “action” takes place is a meeting under the OPMA. This is a potential area for an OPMA violation and ESD boards are advised to keep this in mind.
The OPMA does allow a quorum ESD board members to be present at another organization’s meeting, or to gather together as long as the ESD board doesn’t take action. It also allows a quorum of ESD board members to travel to a function or meet in a social environment, again as long as no action is taken.
Finally, RCW 42.30 205 requires that new ESD board members must receive training on the OMPA within 90 days of being sworn in. It also requires that board members receive updated training at intervals of no more than four years.
What Is a “Meeting”?
A “meeting” under the OPMA occurs when a quorum of the ESD gathers with the collective intent of transacting the governing ESD’s business. A meeting under the OPMA is either a “regular” meeting or a “special” meeting. A meeting designated as a “retreat,” “study session,” or “workshop” is, for OPMA purposes, either a regular or a special meeting, depending on how it is held.
In order for any board actions to be valid, they must be approved at meetings conducted in compliance with the OPMA. Under the OPMA, public agencies must give notice of regular and special meetings. Reminder: As mentioned earlier, meetings do not have to be in person to be subject to the OPMA. Meetings can occur by telephone, email, or other electronic media.
Penalties for Noncompliance
Any action taken at a meeting held in violation of the OPMA is null and void. Any member of a governing body who attends a meeting knowing that it violates the OPMA is subject to a potential personal liability of $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for a subsequent one. Any person who prevails against the ESD in any action through court proceedings for a violation of the OPMA will be awarded all costs, including attorney fees.
As a new ESD board member you are required to complete OPMA training within 90 days of taking the oath of office or assuming board member duties. A refresher on OPMA is also required every four years.
Although not defined in the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), an Executive Session is understood to mean the part of a regular or special meeting of an ESD board that is closed to the public.
The ESD board is allowed to go into executive sessions only for the reasons listed in RCW 42.30.110. Some of the most common reasons for doing so are to discuss:
- the purchase or sale of land
- claims (or potential claims) against the ESD for property or other damage
- the qualifications of a potential appointee to fill an elected or appointed position
- complaints or charges against a public official or employee
- evaluating the performance of a public official or employee
No action can be taken during an executive session. Because the ESD board cannot make a collective decision in an executive session, board members may choose to discuss their concerns individually and allow the executive and staff to use that discussion as guidance. Final action must be taken at an open session.
Attendance at an executive session can include more than the board members and/or superintendent. Anyone other than the board may attend the executive session at the invitation of the board, typically through the board chair. Everyone invited to join the executive session should have some connection to the issue being addressed in the executive session, or they should be in attendance to provide assistance to the ESD board.
If the stated purpose for the executive session is to discuss litigation or potential litigation with the ESD’s attorney, the presence of individuals at the session who are not board members or agency staff may cause the ESD to waive the attorney-client confidentiality privilege.
Overview of Executive Session Procedures
- Board Chair announces the purpose of the executive session. Cite the purpose to the specific subsection of RCW 42.30.110 and briefly describe the reason. It is not necessary to identify specific individuals or case names or numbers (for litigation).
- Board Chair announces the time they will return to open session. Because the statute specifically says, “announce the time” and not “announce the duration,” instead of saying “we’ll be in executive session for 30 minutes” say “we’ll be in executive session until 7:00 pm.”)
- Extending the executive session. If the executive session runs long, the board chair must come back to the location of the regular meeting and announce the new time the open session will reconvene.
- Do not return to open session before the announced time. Some members of the public may have stepped out and not returned until the announced time. Even if you are not taking any action after the executive session, you still need to reconvene in open session to adjourn the meeting at the stated time.
- If discussing litigation or potential litigation, make sure your attorney is present.
- Remind participants that discussions are confidential. Disclosure of confidential information from an executive session by a board member violates RCW 42.23.070(4). The statute prohibits both the disclosure of confidential information and its use for personal gain or benefit.
The Public Records Act (PRA) requires that all public records maintained by state and local agencies be made available to all members of the public, with very narrow statutory exemptions.
Chapter 42.56 RCW provides the statutory framework for disclosure of public records and the Washington State Attorney General’s ”Model Rules on Public Disclosure” (chapter 44-14 WAC) provide practical, non-binding, advisory guidance on many issues that may not be clear in the language of the PRA itself.
ESDs are required by chapter 40.14 RCW to retain records for different lengths of time depending on the content, function and purpose of the record. The records retention schedules, approved by the state and local records committees and published by the Office of the Secretary of State – Washington State Archives, establish the time frames for records retention, archiving and destruction. Individual agencies do have the option of requesting the state or local records committee approve an agency-specific records retention schedule.
What Records Are Public?
The Public Records Act (PRA) along with the Open Public Meetings exist to assure the citizens of the State have access to the workings of government. A public record is defined in RCW 42.56.010(3) as any writing that is prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local government agency, and which contains information that relates to the conduct of government, or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function. The term “writing” is broadly defined in the PRA, public records are defined as any recording of any communication, image or sound. It includes not only conventional documents, but also videos, photos, and electronic records including emails and computer data. Records under PRA may also include voicemails, webpages and social media content, emails, text messages and tweets.
A party seeking public records under the PRA must, “at a minimum, provide notice that the request is made pursuant to the PRA and identify the documents with reasonable clarity to allow the agency to locate them. The PRA specifically allows persons to make requests by mail, which includes email under current technology and practices. Oral requests are not prohibited by the PRA, but they can be problematic.
A written request is advisable for several reasons. It confirms the date on which the record is requested. It also clarifies what is being requested. Identification of the requesting party, with address and telephone number, will also facilitate a request for clarification by the agency of any ambiguous request or allow the agency to determine if a person has the right to a record that would normally be exempt.
Within five days of receipt of a PRA request the agency must respond by either providing the records; or providing a website address to review the records; or acknowledge the request and provide a reasonable time estimate to gather the documents; or deny the request. There can be no fee charged for the requester to inspect the documents at the agency or for collecting the records. However, if copies of the records are requested a fee may be assessed for the copies.
Conflict of Interest
Several years ago, the Legislature amended the conflict of interest statute for local elected officials, primarily in the area of financial thresholds, but also in the area of scope of enforcement. This is an important area of the law for board members and superintendents, so a current and thorough knowledge of the law is important. As a newly elected ESD board member, be sure to discuss applicable policies and procedures related to conflicts of interest with your superintendent and board chair.
RCW 42.23 broadly deals with conflict of interest in the Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers. While it deals primarily with contracts that may be potential conflicts, it could apply to other areas for an ESD Board Member. RCW 42.23.070 (Prohibited Acts) is a suggested list for Board Members to review.
Under state law, board members and superintendents are subject to restrictions because they are municipal officers:
No municipal officer shall be beneficially interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract which may be made by, through or under the supervision of such officer, in whole or in part, or which may be made for the benefit of his or her office, or accept, directly or indirectly, any compensation, gratuity or reward in connection with such contract from any other person beneficially interested therein. (RCW 42.23.030).
If a board member has a permissible interest in a contract under one of the twelve exceptions, they may not vote on the authorization, approval or ratification of the contract. The board member’s interest in the contract must be disclosed to the board and noted in the minutes of the board before the contract is finalized.
Overview of ESDs
In 1969, Educational Service Districts (ESDs) were formed when individual County Superintendent of School offices were consolidated and reorganized to reduce duplication, equalize educational opportunities, and provide a more effective reporting and accountability system to the state legislature. See the ESD History Timeline in the appendices for a snapshot.
ESDs link local public and private schools with one another and with state and national resources. ESD Cooperatives and programs enhance educational opportunities because they realize significant savings, allowing districts to send more dollars directly to the classroom and provide special services that might otherwise be unavailable to their regions.
State law requires ESDs to provide support for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Currently those services include processing school district budgets and providing fiscal oversight for districts in financial distress, processing teacher certification applications, offering fingerprinting services for school personnel, processing citizen complaints related to the professional code of conduct, resolving school district boundary disputes and assisting with communications to school districts. We work to help support these educational organizations through working with their staff and/or legislative representatives.
As ESDs move beyond their fifth decade of service, the scope and nature of our shared service responsibilities reflect the changes facing our public schools. In a time of increased public accountability, of both student performance and management of public resources, ESDs in Washington are “the” model of efficiency and collective impact. The nine ESDs leveraged $7.9 million of state allocated core funding into $420 million of needed services for students and schools in Washington. Stated another way, for every $1 in core funding, ESDs returned $53 in educational programs and services – $389 for every student in the state.
As our state’s citizens demand higher standards and ever-increasing demands on educational programs, the ESDs of Washington state will continue to provide critical services such as teacher and staff training, networking and technology integration, and direct services for students with special needs and early childhood education. We will continue to create new opportunities, leverage more resources, and facilitate broad support for the benefit of all students and their families in Washington State.
Introduction to AESD
The statute (RCW 28A.310) that created Education Districts also authorized the establishment of the Association of Educational Service Districts, a support organization for elected ESD board members and their staff. The role and function of AESD can be very confusing at times as AESD is referenced in at least three interconnected contexts:
- AESD the Board member support organization- Governed by an Executive Board
- Washington AESD (Often called ‘The Network’ or ‘The Network of Nine’)the coordinated system of statewide services- “Governed” by the ESD superintendents and managed by an Executive Director, and
- Washington AESD+ (Often called ‘The Network of Ten’), which includes the strong partnership of ESDs with OSPI.
In essence there are three AESDs, often called the same name, but each serving significantly different roles and audiences. As stated in the AESD constitution (See Appendices) the purpose of the Association of Educational Service Districts “shall be to provide communication and coordination among ESD Boards for educational advocacy; for fostering leadership and partnerships; and for collaboration within the educational community.” Board member support materials and additional resources can be found at the AESD website.
The purpose of the AESD is codified in a constitution that is adopted by its membership (See appendices). The board member support system of AESD is governed by an Executive Board composed of one board member from each ESD. ESD superintendents serve as non-voting and advisory members of the Board. The AESD Executive Board currently schedules five meetings each year, including an annual conference in April.
The voting members of the AESD are the 69 board members from all nine ESDs. However, the nine superintendents play an essential role in all AESD activities. They attend all AESD Board meetings, serve as advisors on all issues, and play a key role in developing the association budget. Also, the superintendents were responsible for creating an ESD Network that was the top priority of the AESD in the early 2000s. The resulting network, which is continually adapting to new approaches to collaboration, ensures the essential services available in an individual ESD are also available to all students in the state. The AESD Network continues to expand the role of ESDs in the State’s framework of pre-K-12 education.
AESD Executive Board
The AESD executive board is composed of nine members, one from each ESD. The board is led by a president and a president elect (see appendices for roster of past AESD presidents). Executive board members serve to inform board member training and support services, recommend approval of the annual budget to membership, and in future will have a strong and active role in planning the AESD annual conference. During their regular meetings the AESD board receives periodic reports regarding AESD legislative initiatives, the status of statewide projects and programs, and provides input to superintendents and ESD staff regarding progress within the framework of the AESD strategic plan (See appendices).
Election of officers (President and President Elect), budget adoption and proposed changes to the AESD constitution are considered and acted upon during the AESD annual business meeting. This event, typically held during the annual conference, provides an opportunity for all ESD board members to better understand the role and purpose of the AESD.
AESD Network Staff
While the authorizing legislation does not allow AESD to employ staff, the network of all nine ESDs has partnered with OSPI to employ an executive director of the OSPI/AESD Network. Our executive director plays an important role in service to the AESD Network as they are at the center of nearly every shared statewide initiative. The expectations placed on the executive director have grown tremendously over the years. When first established the director supported communication and collaboration among the (then) newly formed regional coordinators for mathematics and science. With ever increasing expectations from our partners, the executive director now serves as the single point of contact for nearly all statewide activities. Due to the expanding role ESDs play in statewide service delivery, the function of the executive director has grown tremendously and it is anticipated that additional staff will be needed to support this continually growing dimension of ESD service.
AESD Network Programs and Services
A constantly expanding dimension of the AESD Network is coordination and service alignment within the network of the nine ESDs. Starting with a performance audit in 2008, the ESDs have consistently demonstrated the value of shared services and collaboration. In response to Initiative 900, the ESDs were one of the first organizations engaged in a movement for increased public accountability through performance audits managed by the State Auditor’s Office. A direct result was a partnership agreement that defined how the ESDs work together, identify needs, work in partnership and respond to requests for services beyond individual ESD geographic boundaries (see Appendices).
Examples of AESD Network Programs and Services
The largest shared service of the nine educational service districts is the Washington School Information Processing Cooperative (WSIPC). The ESDs own and operate one of the most comprehensive data and information service systems in the nation. WSIPC manages payroll, student records and budget information for nearly all of the school districts and all the ESDs in the state. WSIPC operates as a cooperative with users paying for services rendered. The service is cost competitive when compared with private vendors and is managed by a board of directors, who are the superintendents from each ESD.
Our program was created to accredit Washington State schools. The Northwest Educational Service District 189 (NWESD) is the lead agency for accreditations which occur on a six-year cycle. Washington State school accreditation was developed to ensure that the state’s high schools were adequately preparing students for college. It was intended to document programs of high quality for colleges and the patrons of Washington’s educational system. It is now open to all grade levels and is a voluntary, self-study process that is a research–based approach to school improvement.
To date, more than 200 schools throughout the state have been approved for AESD Accreditation upon confirmation by a panel of volunteer ESD Board members – middle schools, private schools, themed high schools, comprehensive high schools, and alternative high schools.
Accreditation is granted for a period of six years, conditioned on a third-year review to check on continued progress towards the school’s goals, celebrate successes, and recalibrate as needed.
Regional School Safety Centers
In 2019 the Legislature passed House BIll 1216 designed to increase school safety and support student well-being. As a result a statewide K-12 school safety network was developed, operated through a partnership between the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD).
The bill established regional school safety centers (RCW 28A.310.510) in each of the nine ESDs which provide essential student safety and well-being services including school-based threat assessment coordination, suicide prevention and training, behavioral health supports, and comprehensive school safety planning and emergency/crisis management.
The AESD Network also provides a single point of contact for OSPI leaders who are charged with implementing statewide initiatives. The ‘Network of Ten’ role of the AESD Network continues to expand in areas as diverse as educational technology, school nurses, regional math, science, and English language arts coordination, and school safety centers. Through expanded partnership with OSPI the AESD Network has become one of the primary providers of services required of OSPI by the Washington Legislature or Federal Government grants.
In addition, AESD Network engages in extensive lobbying activity provided through a contract with the Washington Association of School Administrators. The contract currently provides the services of a part-time lobbyist. The AESD Network’s legislative liaison maintains strong contacts with the legislature, the Governor’s Office, and with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The contract for this service is paid for by contributions from each ESD that are based on an agreed-upon formula.
AESD Annual Conference
As mentioned above the AESD hosts an annual conference intended to address the following goals:
- Nurture relationships within the community of AESD
- Support board members in their roles
- Promote expanded understanding of the depth and breadth of AESD Network services
- Conduct the annual business meeting
The conference has historically been hosted by individual ESDs on a rotating basis. The conference host, in partnership with the AESD Executive Board manages the logistics and agenda development of the conference.
Annual Spring Conference Hosting Boards and Regional Locations
2030 ESD 112
2029 ESD 123
2028 NWESD 189
2027 ESD 105
2026 Olympic ESD 114
2025 NEWESD 101
2024 North Central ESD
2023 Puget Sound ESD 121
2022 Capital Region ESD 113