Editor's note: For information on virtual elections, check out Online Voting Tips for PTOs and PTAs.
School parent group elections are generally pretty straightforward, but PTOs will benefit from having a few formal policies in place. Read your bylaws (as well as standing rules, if your group has them), make a few decisions up front, and communicate well, and your election will be a short step in the process of getting your board ready for the new school year.
✓ Set your election date at the beginning of the year, and include it on your calendar; hold elections at the same meeting each year (typically the last or next-to-last monthly meeting).
✓ Decide whether positions will be filled individually or by slate. We recommend holding individual elections so that members have the maximum ability to run for office if they’d like to.
✓ Remind parents at least a month in advance that you’ll be holding elections.
✓ Your elections are guided by your bylaws. If your bylaws don’t include any election guidelines, follow Robert’s Rules of Order.
✓ Check your bylaws for rules about nominations, including:
Who can be nominated for office
Whether there are any procedures that define when and how to close nominations from the floor
Whether a board member who has reached a term limit can run again if the position is empty
Whether co-officers are allowed
✓ Check your bylaws for rules about voting, including:
Who can vote (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.)
Whether absentee voting is explicitly allowed (we recommend you do not allow absentee voting or voting by email)
✓ Set a deadline for candidates to express interest in running for office. This will help you plan better in case any positions may be left empty. Print ballots in advance with those names, and include several blank lines to accept nominations from the floor during the meeting.
✓ Recruit a two- or three-member committee to count ballots; these members should not be running for office, and if possible they should not be current officers.
✓ Share names and brief bios of nominees before the meeting. At the meeting, give nominees a minute or two to introduce themselves and share why they’re interested in serving, as well as any special skills.
✓ Use paper ballots for any role with more than one person running (a “contested election”). You can vote by show of hands if there is only one candidate for a position, but using paper ballots reduces the chance of awkwardness or hard feelings even in uncontested elections.
✓ Have your ballot committee count after each vote. Announce the outcome immediately after each count is double-checked. Unless your bylaws state otherwise, a simple majority determines the winner.
✓ If there’s a tie, you can revote until a decision is reached. Or you can talk to the candidates about job-sharing or taking on a different office or committee chair role.
✓ Your bylaws should define the date when new officers officially take over. If they don’t say, then the elections take effect immediately. A better schedule is to have existing officers serve until the end of the school year so that the new officers can shadow them for a month or two.
A smooth transition starts with a well-organized election, and it continues when the outgoing officers share their organizational knowledge with the newly elected board members. These efforts save time and frustration, which makes for happier volunteer leaders and a more effective parent group overall.
Before the election meeting, discuss what’s expected of outgoing leaders. Set a tone of respect and support for the incoming leaders. Remind the officers of the PTO’s purpose: helping their school and the students in it, even if it means some pet projects get put aside.
Right after the election, schedule a relaxed board meeting with the outgoing team as well as the newly elected officers. It’s a chance to turn over files and officer handbooks and to set up a shadowing/mentoring system for the rest of the school year.
At the end of the school year, hold one-on-one meetings. The new leaders can ask questions and get guidance on their plans for the next year. Make sure new board members know how to reach the outgoing officers during the summer break.
A procedures book is an ideal way to transfer organizational knowledge from one leader to another. It serves as the key reference book a new officer can turn to whenever questions come up about her new role. And it doesn’t have to be fancy; put pages into a three-ring binder—or even simpler, combine into a shared electronic file or folder for easy access and updates.
Each major leadership position should have its own procedures book. Besides information specific to that job title, include the following items:
Detailed job descriptions for all board positions
List of PTO officers and committee chairs (with contact information)
Previous year’s budget
Bank account numbers and balances
Files for welcome packets and parent handbooks
Key contacts for school district
School staff list
School policies handbook
Advice for Common Situations
We have an empty officer position.
1. Connect with incoming kindergarten parents; someone might be interested in taking a leadership role.
2. If your school starts at a higher grade level, talk to parent leaders at the schools that funnel students into yours.
3. Ask around for a grandparent or retired teacher who might want to participate.
4. Recruit again in fall, right after school starts. Energy levels tend to be higher at that point.
One of our elected board members quit very early in her term, and we can’t find a replacement.
1. Make a plan to share the work of that board member until you’ve found a permanent replacement (for example, rotating who takes the minutes each month if the secretary stepped down). Then do some more recruitment in the background.
2. Put together a list of capable replacements, such as past or current committee chairs who have been strong leaders. With the job description in hand, let them know personally about the vacancy. (Don’t send a group email!)
3. Invite your best prospects to talk about the opportunity one-on-one over coffee or lunch. Let each one know you’ll walk her through the position and give her everything she needs to succeed on the job.
4. Consider dividing the role among two people, to reduce the workload and make the job more appealing to people who might prefer to work as a team.
I’m stepping down from my role on the board.
Thank you for the time and energy you devoted to your parent group! Regardless of why you’re leaving the board, be proud of your past accomplishments and think about how you can continue to have a positive influence on your group going forward.
1. Share your knowledge. Keep good records (what you did and why, what worked and what didn’t), train your replacement, and make yourself available later as needed.
2. Follow the chain of command. When people continue asking you questions, direct them politely to the new person in the role.
3. Send FYI messages as needed, especially if you’re still on email lists or receiving resources that will be helpful to your replacement.
4. Contact her discreetly if she’s making a mistake. Be matter-of-fact rather than confrontational.
5. Continue attending PTO meetings and volunteering for activities!
How To Retire Gracefully
Originally posted in 2018 and updated regularly