Parliamentary Procedure for Beginners

As a PTA leader, you probably know that you are supposed to use parliamentary procedure in your meetings, but looking at the more than 800 pages of Robert’s Rules of Orderin the PTA materials the previous PTA president passed on to you might have you thinking, “Really?” Yes, really, but parliamentary procedure isn’t nearly as scary or intimidating as that copy of Robert’s Rules of Ordermake it appear. Here are the basics you need to know as a PTA leader.

Why Parliamentary Procedure?

Henry Martin Robert was a military engineer in the US Army. In the early 1860s while recovering from a tropical fever he had caught in Panama, he was asked to chair a meeting at his local Baptist Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The meeting did not go well, erupting into open conflict over abolition, and Col. Robert decided he needed to understand parliamentary procedure better before leading another meeting.

In looking at the existing manuals of parliamentary procedure, he found them to be often useless or in conflict with each other. He continued to attend meetings that ran out of control, and the guidelines each group was using were poorly written and often contributed to the chaos and rancor. So Col Robert set out to write his own rules for parliamentary procedure.

Robert’s basic premise behind his set of rules was that the voice of the minority be heard, but that the will of the majority prevail. The rules aim to keep the meeting attendees focused on the matter at hand and help them make decisions. The rules are also more important to follow as the size of the meeting gets bigger in order have business proceed smoothly, which is why you’ll see parliamentary procedure used much more formally at the Illinois PTA Convention than in most PTA meetings. As a PTA leader, if you remember that parliamentary procedure is there to make sure all voices are heard and to help your meeting run smoothly, you can avoid some of the nitty gritty details that might get in the way of those goals.

Basic Principles

When using parliamentary procedure, these are the basic principles to keep in mind:

  • Only one issue is discussed at a time.
  • The chairperson is impartial. (That means that as PTA president, you are running the meeting, not influencing the debate.)
  • All members have equal and basic rights to vote, to be heard, and to oppose.
  • The rights of the minority must be protected.
  • No one can speak until recognized by the chairperson.
  • Every member can speak to an issue, but no one can speak a second time as long as another member wants to speak for the first time.
  • A majority vote decides an issue (in all but a few special situations).

The Agenda

As PTA president, you are responsible for preparing the agenda for your PTA meeting and ensuring that it is followed. It is always a good practice to ask your fellow PTA officers, committee chairpersons, and membership if they have items for the agenda. Once the agenda is prepared, distribute it to your members prior to the meeting.

The typical order of business on an agenda is as follows:

  • Call to Order
  • Approval of the Minutes
  • Reports from Officers and Committees
  • Unfinished Business (from previous meetings)
  • New Business
  • Announcements
  • Adjournment

Note that in order to conduct business, you must have a quorum. The quorum for your PTA meetings are listed in your PTA’s bylaws for general membership meetings, executive board meetings, and executive committee meetings. Without a quorum, no official decisions can be made.

Motions

Motions are how business gets done in a meeting, and requires two people—a “mover” and a “seconder.” Motions coming from committees do not require a second, because the body has essentially already seconded the issue by referring it to the committee.

Strictly following Robert’s Rules, a motion must be made and seconded before any discussion of the issue can begin. However, as chair, you can decide to depart from strict parliamentary procedure and allow discussion to occur before the motion is made. This is often done to get opinions from the body so a more precise motion can be made and time isn’t wasted tweaking the wording of a motion. However, if you use this approach, it is important to make sure that the discussion does not wander from the issue being discussed. As chair, it is your job to keep the discussion focused.

After discussion, vote on the motion that has been made and seconded before moving on to the next item of business. A motion must receive a majority of votes to be approved (with some specific exceptions like approving bylaws amendments, which require a two-thirds majority). If there are an even number of votes, which means that the motion must receive 50% of the votes plus one. A motion that is tied is not approved. The secretary should record the exact wording of the motion in the minutes and whether it was approved or not. The secretary does not have to record all of the discussion on the motion.

Debating Motions

When chairing a meeting, it is your responsibility to ensure that the discussion sticks to the issue being debated. Don’t hesitate to bring the group back to the issue if you feel the conversation is wandering off topic. Everyone has been in that meeting where the chair didn’t do so, and the meeting dragged on and on without coming to decisions.

Make sure that everyone is recognized by the chair before speaking. This will help you control the meeting and keep the discussion focused. Make sure that everyone who wants to speak has the opportunity to do so. If as chair you sense that the discussion has come to consensus, don’t hesitate to state what you are hearing as the group’s decision and then ask if they are ready to vote.

You may have a member “call the question,” which is an attempt to end debate and vote on the motion that is on the floor. As part of Robert’s Rules to protect the voice of the minority, a motion to “close debate” or “move the previous question” requires a two-thirds majority to pass. If it does, then you move to vote on the motion on the floor without any further discussion.

Note that discussions can get out of hand and run long. As chair, you can keep the debate moving by making sure everyone has the opportunity to speak once before anyone can speak a second time. If necessary, the group may also vote to limit the amount of time any one person can speak or limit the amount of time for debate on the issue. Since the group imposes those time limits on itself, it can also extend those times by voting to do so.

Amending Motions

Under strict parliamentary procedure, your meeting body will change the motion on the floor by amending it by:

  • Inserting extra wording to the motion
  • Striking existing wording in the motion
  • Striking some wording and inserting additional wording to the motion

In practice, as chair you may allow informal amendments to be made to clarify the wording, provided the maker of the motion accepts the recommendation.

The Role of the Chairperson

When strictly following Robert’s Rules of Order, the chairperson does not participate in debate, and if they want to do so, they must temporarily give up the role of presiding officer until the motion on the floor is voted on. The chairperson also does not vote on a motion. The reason behind these rules is that the chairperson is supposed to be impartial while controlling the meeting. There are some exceptions to these rules.

  • The chairperson can vote if their vote will either make or break a tie. Remember that a tie vote on a motion means that it is not adopted.
  • The chairperson can vote if the vote is by ballot.
  • If the group is small (e.g., a committee) and operates informally, it is okay for the chair to participate in debate and vote.
  • If the members of the group have been chosen to represent specific areas, groups, or interests, the chairperson may participate in debate and vote so their constituency is represented properly.
  • For executive boards, executive committees, and standing or special committees, the chair may have the same privileges as other members to make motions, debate issues, and vote.

Keep in mind that if you as chair decide to participate in debate, you should not abuse the privilege and should avoid dominating the discussion. After having taken a side, it is vitally important that the chair continue to run the meeting impartially.

Nominations and Elections—A How to Guide for PTAs

One of the critical roles given to a PTA’s general membership is the election of its officers, a process that begins with the election of the nominating committee by the general membership. Nominating and electing a good slate of officers is essential for a PTA’s success.

Nominations and Elections Timeline

Because the nomination and election of officers is a central part of how a PTA operates, most of the information you need on how your PTA conducts this process will be in your local PTA bylaws. Article VI—Officers and Their Election contains most of the details.

To determine when nominations and elections need to occur for your PTA, you have to work backwards from the election date. Section 2b of Article VI says when the election of officers is to be conducted. For most PTAs, this is the last PTA meeting of the school year. Once you know the date your PTA will be conducting the election, Section 4b of Article VI states that the nominating committee must report the slate at least 30 days prior to the election meeting. Because you will want to give the nominating committee time to do their work in determining a slate of candidates, you will need to elect the nominating committee a month or two prior to when the committee needs to make its report.

So for a PTA holding an election at their May general membership meeting, the nominating committee will need to make their report in April. That means that PTAs should be electing their nominating committee in February or March at the latest.

Nominating Committee

Section 3 of Article VI states that the nominating committee is to be elected, and Section 4 spells out how big the committee is and where its members are elected from. PTAs are encouraged to have their nominating committee made up of an odd number of people so that the committee is less likely to have a tie when voting between multiple candidates for the slate.

In general, a PTA’s executive board (officers and committee chairs) and the general membership each elect nominating committee members and one alternate from their body. The PTA president may not serve on the nominating committee. The nominating committee meets immediately after their election and determines its own committee chair.

Nominating committee members should review the duties for each office, found in Article VII of the PTA’s bylaws, to familiarize themselves with what skills the committee will be looking for in candidates for each position. Those already in an officer position and eligible for reelection should be considered by the committee, but the committee is free to nominate someone else for the position.

The nominating committee should keep all discussion of potential candidates confidential within the committee. That allows committee members to speak freely on the qualifications of each potential nominee without fear of having critical comments go beyond the committee.

The committee must have the consent of a proposed nominee to slate them, and the proposed nominee must be a member of the PTA or of the PTA for a feeder school for at least 30 days prior to the election in order to be nominated (Article VI, Section 4d). Where the committee is considering between two or more potential nominees, the committee selects the nominee by majority vote by ballot.

Nominating committee members may be considered as a nominee for an officer position. If that is the case, the committee member being considered leaves the room for the discussion of all nominees for that position and does not return until the committee has determined their nominee. The alternate member from the body (executive board or general membership) replaces the committee member who was excused during consideration of nominees for that position.

When the nominating committee decides on a candidate for a positon, they should contact that person while the committee is meeting to confirm their agreement to be nominated. The committee nominates one person for each officer position listed in the bylaws and makes its report of the nominees at least 30 days prior to the election meeting.

Elections

At the election meeting, the PTA president has the nominating committee chair again read the slate of candidates nominated by the committee. The president then asks if there are nominations from the floor, going through each position one at a time. If someone is nominated from the floor, the president should confirm that the person has agreed to be nominated and has been a member of the PTA or a member of the PTA at a feeder school for at least 30 days. When there are no further nominations from the floor, the president declares that nominations are closed.

Section 2b of Article VI states that the election is to be conducted by ballot, but that if there is only one nominee for an office, the election for that position may be conducted by voice with a motion from the floor to do so. That means that if there are two candidates for President, but only one candidate for Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer, a motion can be made to conduct the election of the latter three positions by voice, but the election of the President would still be by ballot.

Conducting the election by voice vote is a two-step process. First, the motion is made and seconded to conduct the election by voice for uncontested positions. This requires a majority vote to approve. A second motion is then made to make the nominated candidate(s) the elected officer(s) for those uncontested elections.

When a ballot vote must be conducted, the President appoints three tellers to handle the election. The tellers are to:

  • Verify that the person being given a ballot is a PTA member
  • Informs each member to indicate their choice by making an “X” in the box next to the person’s name that they wish to vote for (i.e., not a check mark, but two crossing lines)
  • Collects the ballots or makes sure that they are deposited in a sealed ballot box
  • Retire to count the ballots when the polls are closed
  • Report the results of the ballot election without declaring that the individuals are elected, and hand the report to the PTA President

In order to vote in the election, a person must have been a member of the PTA for at least 30 days prior to the election. This 30 day membership requirement for both candidates and voters is to protect your PTA. It means that a crowd of people cannot walk into your PTA’s election meeting, pay membership dues, and then nominate and elect a candidate who just joined the PTA that day.

When the election is concluded, whether by ballot or voice vote, the President declares who has been elected for each position. Those newly elected officers will assume their official duties as described in the bylaws (Article VI, Section 2c).

Additional information on nominations and elections can be found in the President section of the Illinois PTA Leadership Resources.

New Report Provides Additional Data Supporting Illinois PTA’s Emerging Adults Recommendations

Since the release of our 2017 Report on Young Adults Involved in the Justice System, Illinois PTA has been a leader in speaking out for differentiated treatment of those youth ages 18 to 25 involved in the justice system. Last Thursday, Illinois PTA President Brian Minsker participated in the Juvenile Justice Initiative(JJI) Reimagine Justice Summit in Chicago. The event focused on a new report by the Justice Lab at Columbia University that highlighted new data regarding emerging adults involved in the justice system, noting that these youth are disproportionately incarcerated in Illinois, often for low-level offences, and racial disparities are greatest for this group.

State Senator Laura Fine will be introducing a bill again this year to gradually raise the age of juvenile justice for misdemeanor cases from 18 to 21. Illinois PTA testified in favor of this bill last year when then-Representative Fine introduced it in the house and anticipates supporting the bill again this year as well as its companion bill in the House. At the JJI summit, Sen. Fine noted that Illinois PTA’s support was a critical element in many legislators’ voting for the bill. Illinois PTA advocacy makes a difference, and your voice matters. Additional information on the Justice Lab report is below.

The Justice Lab at Columbia University released a new report today at an event in Chicago, entitled Emerging Adult Justice in Illinois: Towards an Age-Appropriate Approach. The report explains that the current justice system—which automatically prosecutes and sentences all emerging adults (ages 18 – 25) in the adult criminal justice system—generates remarkably poor results in terms of youth outcomes, racial and socioeconomic equity, and public safety:

  • Emerging adults comprised 10 percent of the general population in Illinois, yet accounted for 34 percent of total arrests and 28 percent of individuals sentenced to incarceration in Illinois state prisons in 2013.
  • Of those emerging adults admitted to state prisons in 2013, 73 percent were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
  • Over a third of youth ages 18-21 admitted to the Cook County Jail in 2017—2,252 young people—were charged with misdemeanors or other petty offenses.
  • African American emerging adults are incarcerated at a rate 9.4 times greater than their white peers in Illinois. Illinois has one of the highest incarceration rates of African American emerging adults in the country, three times higher than New York and 2.5 times higher than California.
  • Nationally, 3 out of 4 emerging adults released from incarceration are rearrested within 3 years. These poor public safety outcomes are exacerbated by significant barriers to reentry, such as a growing prevalence of substance use disorders and homelessness among this age group.

Highlighting research in neurobiology, developmental psychology, and sociology, the Justice Lab reportexplains that emerging adults are a distinct developmental group and that most will mature out of crime in their mid-20s if given the opportunities to do so. The brains of young people continue developing into at least their mid-20s, far later than formerly thought. Emerging adults are more volatile in emotionally charged settings, more susceptible to peer influence, greater risk takers, and less future-oriented than fully mature adults. Yet, the criminal justice system treats emerging adults almost the same way as 40- or 50-year-olds, failing to provide effective, developmentally appropriate responses, and interfering with the normal maturity process.

“These disastrous justice outcomes are troubling but hardly surprising,” says Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Scientist and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab. “Research shows what every parent of a young person knows, that young people are still maturing and should be treated in a developmentally appropriate way that provides them with a chance to turn their lives around. Publicizing their names when they make mistakes, putting them into jails with older adults, and denying them the rehabilitation that is available in the juvenile justice system makes no sense.”

“The Illinois Parent Teacher Association [PTA] recognizes that youth ages 18 to 24 are developmentally different than those 25 and older,” says Brian Minsker, the President of Illinois PTA. “As we recommended in our 2017 report, it is time for our justice system to recognize and address such developmental needs of all system-involved youth.”

Despite its challenges, emerging adulthood is also a period of opportunity, as youth are malleable and can be influenced by positive peers and enriching, supportive environments. “Illinois has been experimenting with alternative interventions for justice-involved youth with great success for many years,” explains Elizabeth Clarke, Executive Director of Juvenile Justice Initiative. “Our experience has shown that age-appropriate, community-based programs, such as the Redeploy Illinois, can achieve better youth outcomes, reduce recidivism and enhance public safety while resulting in significant cost savings. We should strive to extend this opportunity to all our young people, including emerging adults, who are at a critical developmental stage in their lives.”

As the Justice Lab reportshows, Illinois policymakers have already begun to experiment with policies and practices that treat emerging adults in a distinct manner. Selen Siringil Perker, Senior Research Associate and lead author, notes, “as the home of the first juvenile court in America, I am heartened to see Illinois pursue reform initiatives focused on emerging adult justice. These include, for example, a new restorative justice community court in North Lawndale to serve youth ages 18 to 26 charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors.”

A legislative proposal to gradually raise the age of juvenile justice in misdemeanor cases up to age 21was also filed in the 2018 session of the Illinois legislature. “This legislative initiative is not without precedent,” explains State Senator Laura Fine, who sponsored the bill when she was a State Representative. “Illinois successfully raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 17 to 18 for misdemeanors in 2010, then for felony cases in 2014. Despite concerns that the expansion would overwhelm the juvenile justice system, juvenile arrests, detention and incarceration rates all plummeted after the change in law. We did it before and we can do it again.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois legislature passed a new bill that provides parole eligibility for most youth who are under age 21 at the time of conviction. The Justice Lab report noted that other areas of public policy, ranging from laws on alcohol consumption to recent legislative proposals regarding gun purchases, treat emerging adults up to age 21 differently than older adults.

“It is important to rely on cutting edge research when reforming the criminal justice system,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx said. “That is why I am grateful for the Columbia University Justice Lab’s reporton emerging adults in the criminal justice system. Our office is in review of this report and we look forward to collaborating with them and other stakeholders in the future to address the emerging adult population in Cook County.”

Illinois’ emerging adult justice reform efforts are indicative of a national movement to enhance public safety by providing more individualized, tailored, and developmentally appropriate responses to emerging adults. “Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state in the country to enact a law gradually raising the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to a youth’s 20th birthday by 2022,” says Lael Chester, coauthor and Director of the Emerging Adult Project at Columbia Justice Lab. “There also have been bills filed to raise the age past the 18th birthday in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2018. Many states will be watching Illinois with interest.”

PTA Board Responsibilities

For many PTA volunteers, serving on the PTA board is “just another volunteer job.” But in reality, your PTA board is running a non-profit organization, and with that comes responsibilities. Part of those responsibilities will be spelled out in your PTA bylaws and standing rules. Board Sourceprovides many free resources to help your board understand its role and lead your PTA effectively.

As Board Source notes, a lack of understanding what is and is not part of a board’s essential roles can lead to problems such as micromanagement, rogue decision-making, lack of engagement, and more. That certainly aligns with much of Illinois PTA’s experience with local PTAs and Councils having problems, which most often tend to stem from failure to follow the bylaws, ethical issues, or financial mismanagement. Ensuring that your board understands their role can help avoid those problems.

Part of the training that National PTA new requires of state PTA boards covers the fundamental duties of all non-profit boards, and these duties apply to local PTAs as well. Those duties are:

  • Duty of Care:Each board member has a legal responsibility to participate actively in making decisions on behalf of the organization and to exercise his or her best judgment while doing so.
  • Duty of Loyalty:Each board member must put the interests of the organization before their personal and professional interests when acting on behalf of the organization in a decision-making capacity. The organization’s needs come first.
  • Duty of Obedience:Board members bear the legal responsibility of ensuring that the organization complies with the applicable federal, state, and local laws and adheres to its mission.

Beyond those three duties are some basic responsibilities. Board Source identified ten basic responsibilities, and while a few might not apply to a local PTA (who don’t, for example, have a chief executive), most of them can still guide your PTA board. Among them are:

  • Advocate for your mission and purposes.
  • Ensure effective planning.
  • Monitor and strengthen programs and services.
  • Ensure adequate financial resources.
  • Protect assets and provide financial oversight.
  • Build and sustain a competent board.
  • Ensure legal and ethical integrity.
  • Enhance the organization’s public standing.

For PTAs, your mission is clear: to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. Many of the other points are covered in our free PTA training courses, and Illinois PTA strongly recommends that every PTA have board members sign an ethical conduct agreement (available in both English and Spanish in your Illinois PTA online Leadership Resourcesin the President folder).

By focusing your PTA on its mission and advocating for it, by emphasizing that your PTA is in fact a non-profit organization with legal duties and responsibilities, and by ensuring that your PTA board is trained and understands its roles as leaders, your PTA can be even more successful in doing great things for the kids at your school, in your district, and across Illinois and the nation.