Basics

Robert’s Rules: What You Should Know

Vector parchment with a pen and ink. Icon for recordsRobert’s Rules can help you run an effective PAC meeting. You don’t have to know a whole book’s worth of details—just a few key concepts.

Robert’s Rules of Order, when mentioned can bring a lot of groaning! Overly complicated ‘stuff’ about primary motions, points of order and moving the question, may come to mind. Why deal with all of that when conducting a PAC meeting is enough work on its own?

Robert’s Rules is genius, in the way that they work well for groups of all sizes and types. Simply reading through the rules, all of the terms and the complexity tend to conceal his key concepts. Used with a little assertive leadership, the ‘rules’ keep a meeting organized and flowing.

  • Conduct business one item at a time - Jumping around from one item to another can be confusing and generally delays progress on any of the items.
  • Let committees do their work - Your general meeting is to resolve major issues. Save everybody’s time by letting committees deal with smaller details.
  • Don’t allow crosstalk - Require all speakers to address the chairperson; this helps you keep control and ensures everyone will hear the business at hand.
  • Limit discussion to the topic at hand - Keep things focused and don’t be shy about asking speakers to deal only with the current topic.
  • Cut off discussion when it becomes redundant - For controversial issues, setting a time limit for each speaker can help. When a discussion becomes circular, summarize the points on each side and ask for anything new, or stop the discussion by calling for a motion.

An orderly, well-run meeting is appreciated by the officers and those attending. You get more business accomplished in a shorter time, and everyone is happier. PAC’s that limit their meetings to one hour have much more success in getting parents to return the next month. As for the terms and procedures you find in Robert’s Rules, there are a few fundamentals that you should know.

Agenda

The agenda is a detailed list of specific items, in the sequence in which they will be covered. Use a consistent order of business from meeting to meeting and distribute hard copies of the agenda to attendees. (If you are trying to save paper, you can post the agenda on a overhead projector screen) Post the agenda ahead of time at the school and on your website so members know what issues will be discussed at the upcoming meeting. Be specific. Don’t just list ‘unfinished business’ – State what item of unfinished business will be covered.

Order of business for a regular parent group meeting might be:

  1. Welcome
  2. Approval of minutes (from last meeting)
  3. President’s report
  4. Treasurer’s report
  5. Principal’s report
  6. Committee reports
  7. Unfinished business
  8. New business
  9. Announcements (including date and time of the next meeting)
  10. Adjournment

Motion

A motion is a formal way to propose something on which the group should vote. The proposer says, ‘I move that…’ and clearly states what is being considered. Someone else ‘seconds’ the motion. This is usually guided by the PAC president. The group discusses the motion until they are ready to vote. Finally, the president asks for an indication of ‘all those in favour’ followed by ‘those opposed’. There is no need to ask for ‘abstentions’ (those who choose not to vote at all), because abstentions are not counted toward the outcome of the motion.

Quorum

A quorum is the minimum number of members required to conduct business at the meeting. Usually this number is stated in the individual schools PAC bylaws. If a quorum is not indicated in the bylaws, Robert’s Rules of Order sets it at a majority of members.

Minutes

The minutes are the permanent record of the business conducted during a meeting, typically prepared by the PAC’s secretary. The minutes include details such as, the date, time, and location of the meeting, whether a quorum was present, and the presiding officer. Specific motions and their outcomes (but not exact vote counts) are also included in the minutes. Discussion is not documented in the minutes. The minutes for each meeting are presented for the groups approval at the next meeting.

Adjournment

Adjournment is simply a formal way to close a meeting so everyone knows the session has come to an end. The time of adjournment is recorded in the meeting minutes.

Tabling a Motion

If it is clear that a motion cannot or should not be voted upon at the current time, it is typical to postpone or ‘table’ the motion until the next meeting. Technically there should be a new motion to table the current motion, but most groups can agree to delay discussion without layers of procedure. Often, it helps to appoint a committee or a member to study the issue and report back to other members at the next meeting. This can save time on circular debate, especially when all of the facts are not available.

Resources

There are many guides to Robert’s Rules. If you’d like a reference, go with an abridged version such as Webster’s New World Robert’s Rules of Order, Simplified and Applied. Sticking to a few simple rules can make meetings more pleasant for everyone.

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Writing PAC Bylaws

basics-bylawsNeeding new Bylaws? If you are wanting a well organized PAC, your bylaws are essential component. Below are some guideline you can follow to get your bylaws in place.

Every PAC should have a set of bylaws. Bylaws are the building blocks for your PAC that help rule and govern how your group is organized and run.

PAC executives should read the group’s bylaws. Bylaws cover topics such as the makeup of the executive board, how officers are elected, and membership requirements.

The easiest way to get started with writing PAC bylaws is to look at other schools bylaws. Every PAC is independent and will have their own set, so there is ‘no’ official bylaws; however, most PAC bylaws will not vary much from PAC to PAC. Assign a few from your PAC to lead and develop your new bylaws, based on other schools and what it is you are wanting for your PAC. You can find a sample bylaw at www.bccpac.bc.ca/sites/…/lm-tab6_constitution_bylaws.pdf

Format

Take a minute before starting and figure out the lay out you are wanting and how you would like your bylaws to be formatted. Even if you are writing them out, you will want to have a copy in an editable electronic format. Assign someone to type up your final version in a Word document, this way your simple revisions can be made over time if need be and you always have a copy handy for future PAC members. Be sure to also store multiple copies in a set spot at your school.

Layout

Most bylaws are written in an ‘outline format’ with major section headings called ‘articles’ and subordinate paragraphs called ‘sections’. This is a simple layout that makes them easy to read and reference.

Important Content Areas

By following the sample found above you will be covering all the important areas. Make sure you have:

  • The formal name of the PAC
  • Purpose
  • Membership requirements
  • Officer requirements
  • Voting procedures, including the definition of quorum
  • Meetings
  • Financial policies
  • Amendment procedures
  • Dissolution
  • The reference you will use to resolve procedure questions

 

Writing PAC Bylaws – FAQ’s

When writing our bylaws, should we have an attorney?                                                
Bylaws should not be complicated, they should be written in plain English and easy to understand. If you have a parent who is an attorney, then having them help you out is fine, but there is no need to pay for an attorney’s service.

Once the bylaws are written, what do we do?
Once a draft copy is done, you will want to go over them to review the new proposed bylaws with your PAC. If you are all happy with how they look, you will then need to ‘adopt the bylaws’ at your next PAC meeting and have them approved. Once approved by the ‘majority’, a copy can be placed in a permanent location for easy access to your PAC and a copy given to the principal.

How do we use our bylaws?
Bylaws are used to clear up confusion, keep your group focused on its mission and to resolve disputes. Always keep a paper and an electronic version in your files so they are ready to use when needed. Your bylaws are your PAC’s guiding principles and parameters so refer to them when necessary.

It’s always good practice to formally review your bylaws every few years. Over time, you will probably need to revise your bylaws depending on the needs and growth of your group.

Policies and Standing Rules – FAQ’s

What are policies, and how do they differ from bylaws?
Policies are a ‘standing rule’ and help to define your day-to-day procedures for your PAC. Generally, bylaws will cover the broadest of guidelines for your group; these are fairly consistent with each PAC. Policies are more detailed and specific to your PAC. Eg: your bylaws might require your PAC to hold a general meeting at least three times a year; your policies might state that general meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month beginning at 7 p.m. Like bylaws, policies are used to address issues and resolve conflicts in a consistent manner.

How do we change our PAC’s policies?
A policy may be adopted by simple majority vote. Robert’s Rules of Order dictate that changing a policy requires a simple majority vote if notice has been given in advance that the change will be considered. If no notice has been given and the change is to be made on the spot, a two-thirds majority is required.

Typically your executive board will manage your policies; however, it is important for other PAC members to be aware of your group’s policies. Include your policies and bylaws in a binder for easy access.

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