Controlling Educational and Financial Risks

By Charles K. Trainor

In the 1980s, “Hill Street Blues” was a popular TV police drama. Each morning, the officers gathered for a briefing that outlined the events of the previous night and provided instructions for the day. After dismissal, they noisily exited the squad room only to be silenced by their sergeant’s last, gruff admonishment, “Hey! Let’s be careful out there.”

It’s good advice for school board members, too. Just as police officers regularly confront danger, school districts face threats to their educational and financial missions. To protect district resources, board members must recognize those risks and understand the internal controls that manage them.

If you define risk as anything that can prevent a district from accomplishing its goals and objectives, then you have a lot to be careful about. Board members may be unaware of the potential problems that endanger their districts. Some are aware of risks but do not know how to respond.

Whether unaware or uninformed, the board is ultimately responsible for protecting students from inadequate educational programs and taxpayers from financial loss. Ignoring risk can jeopardize the district’s reputation and, in some cases, violate the law.

Board members need a warning system to alert them to new or existing threats to district operations. Recognizing potential risk before it materializes allows the board and administrative team to develop effective strategies that eliminate or mitigate hazards. 

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