Friday, April 20, 2018

Term limit proposal gets Florida school board members talking

House Bill 7069 was all the talk when the Florida School Boards Association held its conference in Tampa this past summer.

At this week's conference, the controversial bill remained a discussion subject. But the buzz really was about the Constitution Revision Commission proposals to limit board members to two consecutive terms, and to eliminate their pay.

Several said Thursday that they did not deny boards could benefit from fresh views.

"I don't have any problems with term limits," said Pasco County board member Steve Luikart, who is ending his second term. "I think there's a reason for them."

But Luikart and others worried that the mandatory removal of board members for no other reason but their length of service could have negative side effects, such as the loss of valuable historical perspective.

"Term limits create an impediment to a culture of high performance, in my opinion," said Lee County board chairwoman Cathleen Morgan, currently in her fifth year. "I believe turnover is good. I'm not sure forced turnover is necessarily healthy."

Leon County board member Maggie Lewis-Butler, in her 20th year of service, agreed. If voters see that a board member says current with education issues and remains responsible to the public, she said, there's no reason to arbitrarily remove that person.

"I'm still excited about doing a good job for the people," said Lewis-Butler, a retired teacher.

Board members from smaller, rural counties raised similar concerns as those mentioned by several revision commission members: An already small pool of candidates would shrink.

"In Hamilton County, nobody likes to volunteer their time," said board member Saul Speights, elected in 2016. "To find qualified people to do it, that's going to be the hard part."

Madison County board member Reginald Daniels, also newly elected a year ago, said he worried that particularly in combination, term limits and the elimination of pay would hurt in his community.

"I think it would eliminate the diversity" of candidates, Daniels said.

FSBA leaders have tried to make clear that, despite what some might believe, school board races are regularly contested and new members are frequently elected.

But they, too, stressed the need for institutional memory. Districts make long-range plans, but term limits would almost ensure that board members would not be around to see them through, said Alachua County board member April M. Griffin, FSBA president.

"You couldn't have a vision past four years," Griffin said. "If they want to know how their proposals affect school board members, we're ready to talk to them."

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