How to Conduct a Self-Audit of a School District Policy Manual in Washington State

Attached is a template for a policy manual self-audit for school districts.  This tool and audit process was developed and used by KLM & Associates to assist districts who wanted to find out how their policy and procedure manual compared with Washington state model policy manual*.  It can easily be adapted to other states by filling in comparable state data.

Washington State school districts are similar to districts in other states in that they find themselves faced with a large number of state recommended policies to consider, customize or adopt.  School district policy models are constantly in flux, responding to legislative changes, state or federal requirements, lawsuits or challenges brought against other districts, or societal shifts that impact best practice recommendations.  In the case of Washington State, districts work with approximately 250 state policy models and another 150 or so additional model procedures and forms.  These models are added, revised or removed at the rate of approximately 60 documents per year.

Keeping up is in itself is daunting task, but when a district falls behind and does not review policy and procedure changes as they are made available, it only takes a couple of years to reach a point where the update task is overwhelming and time-consuming.

In addition to a constant level of change, there were two major waves of policy updates in Washington State in the past 15-20 years that further complicates the audit and update process for districts.  The first shift occurred in 1998 and was most distinguished with renumbering from the 0000-9000 series to the current 0000-6000 series. The second major wave of change occurred in 2011, when nearly every state policy and procedure underwent extensive technical editing, with corrections to grammar, punctuation, word choice, reference titles and formatting.  In a high percentage of these policies and procedures, references and content were updated but not all of these changes were published, as usually expected. This added confusion.

So where do you start if you are a board member or superintendent and you aware that your district is working with outdated policies?

It has been my experience that the first step is to assess the extent to which district policies are outdated and the scope of the task that the board and district will face to get the manual up-to-date. Starting with a self-audit is a cost-effective and efficient approach.

The audit form that is linked was developed and successfully implemented with districts of all sizes throughout Washington State.  It is not meant to be 100% conclusive, that would take far too much time and it would actually duplicate some of the work of a policy manual update.  Rather, a self-audit is conducted to quickly identify missing policies, extra district-only policies and outdated policies.  In a summary report, a district will be able to quantify how many policies need to be addressed and set up a timeline accordingly.

The easiest self-audits will be for districts whose policies are relatively up-to-date, the district may have fallen behind only a few years.  In this case, the numbers and titles will generally correspond with the state policy models. On the end of the continuum are those districts who did not make a change in renumbering from the 9000 to the 6000 series, or for those districts who use a lettered system.

Steps for a Successful Self-Audit:

  1. Look first at the numbering system of district policies.  If you are using anything other than a 1000-6000 or 0000-6000 numbering system, then you are looking at a significant project that could take 10-12 months.
  2. The first and third columns provide you with the current state policy number and title.  Using the table of contents of the district policy manual to find a policy (or even more than one) with the same title or number. Write in the district policy number/numbers in the 4th column.  Use the final column to comment if the title differs from the state model.
  3. The second column allows you to quickly see if there is a corresponding set of procedures for each state policy model.  Again, using the district table of contents, look to see if the district has procedures for every policy indicated.  Comment in the final column if there are differences.
  4. The 4th column shows the year of the most recent update published by the state organization responsible for developing state policies*.  Open up the district corresponding policy or policies and write down the most recent year that the district reviewed, revised or adopted the policy.  Refer to the 7th column which summarizes other dates when policy changes were published.  Add to the final column your observations on policy updates your district may have missed.
  5. The 6th column shows classifications assigned by WSSDA* in Washington State to indicate legal requirements of every policy. Essential policies are those required by state or federal laws or a designated program that receives special funding. Priority policies address essential functions that the district is required to perform, whether or not the district adopts a policy. Discretionary policies allow the district more discretion to determine if or how a policy, not required by state or federal law, might assist a district on an issue or topic of importance to that particular district.The value of classifications is that they provide the district guidance on the prioritization on policy adoption during the update process.
  6. Prepare a separate list of every district policy that you identified on the audit form that you were not able to locate.  In many cases, these policies were removed from the state policy manual because the content was merged with other policies, or the policy was outdated, redundant or no longer required.  Often the district has policies that had been written to address a specific district need.
  7. The final step is to prepare a report for the board and administrative team.  This report will include the number of 1) missing policies and their classifications (i.e. adopt missing ‘essential’ policies immediately), 2) the list of district-only policies that may need to be deleted, 3) a list of the percentage of policies that are missing updates for each series and 4) a recommendation for a strategy to move forward and update the policy manual.

Resources to help with auditing, updating or maintaining district policy manuals can vary in each state.  In general, school districts have an option of: working with district legal counsel to update the policy manual on their own, working with state school board associations who often have resources to support districts, or contracting with individuals or organizations who have the expertise and experience to help.  KLM & Associates is available to discuss your needs.

* In Washington State, school districts benefit from the work of the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), a state public agency legislated with responsibilities that include the coordination of policymaking (RCW 28A.34.040).  Washington State policies are available through the WSSDA website). 

Download Templates: PDF | DOC


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This post was written by Kathleen McDonald