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Robert's Rules Q&A

Straight answers to common questions about voting, agendas, and best practices for your meetings.

07/26/2021

Last month, a parent came 15 minutes early to our PTO meeting, asking to be put on the night’s agenda. The president told her it was OK and added her name and edited the agenda to include her that evening. Was this OK?
Yes. The purpose of an agenda is to allow you to do business one item at a time and in an orderly way. It helps keep your meeting on track and prevent the confusion that can happen when several topics are discussed at the same time. An agenda isn’t intended to limit what can be discussed. Some groups do have a requirement that agenda items be submitted in advance so the agenda can be printed and distributed or perhaps emailed to members before the meeting. Even in these cases, though, there should be a point during the meeting where the president asks for “new business” or “further business.” That’s a time when any member can bring up a topic that’s not formally listed on the agenda.

Do teachers get to vote?
This is a bylaws question, and the answer is different depending on the parent group. If teachers are considered members of your PTO, if the bylaws don’t specifically say that teachers aren’t allowed to vote, and if a teacher is a member in good standing, then yes, she can vote. Some PTOs define a member as a parent or guardian of a student in the school. If that’s the case, a teacher would not be allowed to vote unless she has a child enrolled at the school.

What happens if we have a tie vote? Does the president get to decide the election?
The answer actually depends on how your vote was held. If it was a secret (paper) ballot and it ended in a tie, Robert’s Rules of Order calls for a new vote, preferably held the same night. Usually this only applies to an election of officers, since most other votes are typically done by a show of hands.

If the vote was a show of hands and the president, as the person presiding, didn’t vote, then Robert’s Rules allows the president to vote to break the tie. The important point here is that the president doesn’t get to vote twice. If her vote was counted and the result was a tie, then you need to vote again. If her vote was not counted, then her vote breaks the tie.

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Our PTO board is about to vote on an important issue. Some members are uncomfortable about this vote and are choosing to abstain. One member thinks that if you abstain from voting, that is a nay vote. Is this accurate?
No. When someone abstains, the vote isn’t counted at all. So if a vote is 15 yes, 14 no, and 3 abstentions, then the measure passes.

There is one case in which abstentions have the effect of counting as nay votes. That’s when a specific percentage of votes are required to pass a measure. For instance, you might need a two-thirds majority to revise your bylaws. In that case, an abstention acts as a nay vote because it keeps you from reaching the required minimum number of votes. For example, if you have a quorum of nine people and 5 vote yes, 3 vote no, and one abstains, the measure wouldn’t pass because you didn’t reach the required two-thirds majority of 6 votes. This type of case is fairly rare, however.

Our president “tabled a motion” when it came to voting on buying a new playground. Does that mean she has turned it down?
Tabling a motion just means your group is postponing voting on the motion, usually because more information is needed. Technically, the presiding officer shouldn’t be making motions—she can suggest that a motion be made to table an item, but another member has to do so and a vote should be held to approve that motion. On the other hand, most groups can agree to delay discussion without layers of parliamentary procedure. It’s a good idea to have your playground committee study whatever issue you’re concerned about and report back at the next meeting. Letting committees do this kind of work can save a lot of unnecessary debate.

What issues get voted on at a general meeting vs. a board meeting?
There isn’t really a set answer to this; it depends on how your group operates. Some groups have only occasional informational meetings for the general membership, and the board handles most of the real business. Other groups have regular monthly general meetings, and they do much of the group’s major business at those meetings.

There are only a few things that must be voted on by the membership, mostly involving changes to the group’s structure, such as a bylaws amendment or revision. Your bylaws may specify other required votes, such as approval of an annual budget. It also may make sense to vote on things for which you want broad-based support, such as creating a major new program.

Members have the right to vote on other items or change the board’s decisions by raising topics at general meetings. But as a rule, you shouldn’t be voting on which cookie dough company to choose for your fundraiser or whether the color scheme for the auction should be blue and white or green and yellow. Those types of nitty-gritty items are best handled by committees and the board. Keep your general meetings short, friendly, and informational.

Our secretary thought she had the recorder on at our meeting, but the battery died and she did not get everything. How can we rewrite our minutes accurately at this point? Do we need to hold another meeting?
Meeting minutes are a record of what was done at a meeting, not a record of what was said. So you don’t need to recreate the debate. You just need to remember what decisions were made. You and your officers should be able to take a look through the agenda and recall what actions were taken. If you approved any expenditures, your treasurer should have notes on those.

Are PTOs subject to public open meeting laws?
No. Open meeting or “sunshine” laws are aimed at municipal and state government proceedings. Although PTOs serve schools, as independent nonprofit organizations they are not subject to the provisions of sunshine laws. Still, the best practice is to conduct PTO business in the open and to make your actions as transparent as possible. The more open you are, the better off you’ll be in terms of building support and involvement.

One of our parents is going on vacation and would like to submit a proxy vote against an expenditure at an upcoming PTO meeting. Can her vote be counted?
Unless your bylaws specifically allow proxy voting, her vote doesn’t count. We recommend against proxy voting, and Robert’s Rules of Order states outright that nonprofit organizations should prohibit it. Proxy voting makes sense when there’s a financial interest at stake, such as at a stockholders meeting. But it can be a tangled web if there’s a dispute over whether the proxy was really authorized to vote for the absent member or if the proxy doesn’t vote the way the member intended.

We are about to vote on which fundraiser company we will use in the fall, and one of the vendors we’ll be voting on happens to be a member of our PTO. Isn’t this a conflict of interest, and shouldn’t we tell her that she is unable to vote on this matter?
According to Robert’s Rules, you can’t prevent a member from voting because of a perceived conflict of interest. The best practice would be for her to voluntarily not vote, but you can’t force her to abstain. Also, you should be sure to bring up her affiliation before you vote on the fundraiser, in the interest of full disclosure. If you don’t, you may find yourselves accused of playing favorites instead of doing what’s best for the school.

Originally posted in 2010 and updated regularly.

Comments   

# raul 2010-08-26 18:15
interesting
# SHELIA 2012-03-06 03:06
Our PTO meeting got sticky we voted on to have a grant fund for teachers at $5000 then someone came to the meeting to ask for funds they ended up slashing our grant money to give to the other organization was this properly handled? This was all done at the same meeting and only was motioned and second motioned not actually hand vote.
# Amy 2012-04-26 00:51
Our bylaws are up for interpretation and we are trying to determine what is accurate and who determines what the interpretation is:

Article IV is about officers and terms
Item one states that we have 6 officers and lists those positions. Item 2 states that a term is July 1 - June 30 and item 3 states that a term is served for a minimum of one year and a maximum of 3 years.

Out of 12 people, 11 interpret this to mean that you can serve as one of the officers for a minimum of 1 year with a maximum of 3 years but then you would have to run for a different position after three years.

One person says that she interprets this to mean that you can only serve on the PTO board for a maximum of 3 years regardless of the position you hold.

How do we come to a final interpretation? These bylaws were created before our current Principal and board members.

thanks!
# Amy 2012-04-26 00:52
Our bylaws are up for interpretation and we are trying to determine what is accurate and who determines what the interpretation is:

Article IV is about officers and terms
Item one states that we have 6 officers and lists those positions. Item 2 states that a term is July 1 - June 30 and item 3 states that a term is served for a minimum of one year and a maximum of 3 years.

Out of 12 people, 11 interpret this to mean that you can serve as one of the officers for a minimum of 1 year with a maximum of 3 years but then you would have to run for a different position after three years.

One person says that she interprets this to mean that you can only serve on the PTO board for a maximum of 3 years regardless of the position you hold.

How do we come to a final interpretation? These bylaws were created before our current Principal and board members.

thanks!
# Craig Bystrynski 2012-04-26 01:01
Hi Amy -- Since there's no way at this point to know what the intent was when the bylaw was written, you can only go by the text. From what you state here, I'd interpret the bylaw to mean that one person can spend a maximum of three terms in one office. Based on this text, that wouldn't preclude a person from running for a different office after the three years.

In particular, if the particular section is titled "officers and terms" as you mentioned, that would seem to clearly refer to the particular offices and not to serving on the board as a whole.

Either way, you should vote to clarify the bylaw with the meaning that you feel is appropriate.

Good luck!
# Amy Cochran 2012-04-26 15:44
Thanks Craig....I agree with you however we have some pretty persistent parents who want to argue this point. I thought we were all here for the same reason however I am beginning to feel this is nothing more than a power struggle which is a shame as my purpose of for the children and best intentions for them and the school. Anyway, I have copied the entire Article into this post..actually it will pop up right below it because it will make this post to long. Please review if you don't mind and let me know if your thoughts are the same:
# Amy Cochran 2012-04-26 15:44
here is the Article Craig:

Article IV. Officers, Nominations, Elections, Vacancies

A. Officers
1. The officers of the Tribe shall consist of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, family resource network chair, and fundraising chair.
2. Any member except the Principal and the Athletic Director may be an officer of theTribe.
3. All terms will be at least one year with a maximum of 3 years from July 1 to June 30.

B. Nominations
1. Nominations will be taken in the month of April for the May election if there are vacancies.
2. Nominations will be advertised through the school website.
2. The list of nominees shall be presented at the May meeting.
3. Only those persons who have signified their consent to serve, if elected, shall be nominated to any office.
# Amy Cochran 2012-04-26 15:44
Article continued...

C. Elections
1. Elections shall be held each school year at the regular May meeting of the Tribe if needed.
2. Election shall be by secret written ballot.
3. If there is but one nominee for any office, election for that office may be by voice vote.
4. Only those members present at the May meeting shall be eligible to vote.

D. Vacancies
1. A vacancy in the office of President shall result in the Vice President assuming the office and responsibilities of the President, for the remainder of the term.
2. A vacancy occurring in any other office shall be filled for the remainder of the term, by a consenting eligible member of the Tribe.
3. In the event of a resignation after the May election meeting, said vacancy will be voted in by the existing board members.
# Craig Bystrynski 2012-04-26 17:34
It seems pretty clear to me that the three years refers to the specific offices, not amount of time served on the board. That entire section describes individual offices and never refers to the board as a whole. If the limit was meant to encompass total service on the board, I think it would state that specifically.
# Carrie H. 2012-09-01 16:48
Regarding the part of the article about a member voting on a fundraising company when said member would benefit financially - does this not violate the conflict of interest policy we as nonprofits are supposed to have per IRS recommendations?
We have a conflict of interest policy that specifically states that a member cannot vote on an issue if they would financially benefit from the decision.
# Donna 2012-10-17 13:50
Hey...We had a aPTO meeting recently and voted on an issue...but at the next meeting, a parent brought it to my attention that something Huge was going on the day we scheduled our event which may jeopardize our participation rate. I, being the Vice President acting as President that particular day, brought the issue to the floor. It was voted that we change the date. I was about two days later, beat down about how an issue spent get voted on again once it has been voted on. I was just trying to look out for the best interest of the PTO and I explained that when we initially voted, I was unaware of the issue I brought up in the second voting. Was I wrong. I didn't say we had to change the date, I just wanted to inform everyone of the event and see if they still wanted to go on with it!! So....Was I wrong??
# Donna 2012-10-17 13:54
Hey...We had a PTO meeting recently and voted on an event and date...but at the next meeting, a parent brought it to my attention that something Huge was going on the day we scheduled our event which may jeopardize our participation rate. I, being the Vice President acting as President that particular day, brought the issue to the floor. It was voted that we change the date. About two days later, I was beat down about how an issue couldn't get voted on again once it has been voted on. I was just trying to look out for the best interest of the PTO and I explained that when we initially voted, I was unaware of the new issue I brought up in the second meeting. Was I wrong. I didn't say we had to change the date, I just wanted to inform everyone of the event and see if they still wanted to go on with it!! So....Was I wrong??
# Alison Wallis 2013-11-05 22:42
Commendations for the intent to be helpful in this article. However, quite a number of answers are not correct. (Answers are wrong on tabling, tie votes, and minutes.)

Interested members and officers should consult a professional parliamentarian or attend parliamentary study meetings (see parliamentarians.org for groups in your area) to get more helpful answers. Members should also consult their parliamentary authority, Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 11th edition.
# jennifer 2013-12-05 07:15
we have a unique situation where the current president and treasurer have resigned from our board. In order to fill their vacancies our former President and Treasurer who are currently serving in other positions are willing to step up and fill the vacancies to ensure the board remains alive. I need to know if they are eligible since they have already been in another position and severed their previous duties since the beginning of this school year. Can either return to their former positions for another term?
# Trich 2015-05-07 19:58
If a nominee is running uncontested for an office, yet is employed by the School District, who has final say as to whether or not it is a conflict of interest-the PTO Executive Board or the School Board?
Does the conflict of interest have to be stated in the School District ByLaws or PTO ByLaws in order for it to stand?
Does the PTO Executive Board have the right or responsibility to accept or deny a nomination based on conflict of interest?
# Lynn Aaron 2018-03-09 15:08
What do you do when a request from a school employee has passed at a meeting and later you, as a PTO Board member, find out the money that was given to the school was not used for the purpose as requested? This specific request was documented in the minutes at that meeting and unanimously passed. It was a large dollar amount, too.
Thank you for your suggestions and input.

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