Thursday, August 16, 2018

School Board member term limits moves forward in Florida Constitution Revision Commission

Term limits for school board members — one of the most popular proposals before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission — took a step closer to the November ballot on Wednesday.

The measure, which would hold board members to two consecutive terms if approved, won strong support from the commission. It voted 27-6 to advance the idea to its Style and Drafting committee to properly word the ballot question that voters would consider in November.

"I firmly believe the public is right in demanding term limits," said Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a commission member who is term limited herself from seeking another term in the Florida House.

She argued that term limits provide the opportunity to people like her to win public office, by requiring a turnover of otherwise entrenched officeholders. They also help keep "fresh ideas and new perspective" in policy making bodies, Nunez said.

Related coverage: Florida's latest debate over term limits: Do school boards need fresh ideas or experience? 

Tallahassee businessman Brecht Heuchan, another commission member, said in a perfect world it would be one thing if the public could keep well-liked and successful officials in their seats.

"It would be great if we could pick and choose just to have the good people stay. But we can't," he said, voicing his support for the plan.

Opponents suggested the move would hand more influence to unelected players, as newcomers with no institutional knowledge churn through office.

"The power stays with those who are here forever, the lobbyists, and they notice it," said former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a commission member.

She and former Sen. Chris Smith, also on the commission, argued that term limits are unfair to the community. They sound good, Smith said, but come with unintended consequences.

"Term limits are every four years," Smith said. "People vote."

Related coverage: Term limit proposal gets Florida school board members talking

Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, the proposal sponsor, contended that incumbents hold an unfair advantage that often makes it difficult for outsiders with different ideas to win board positions. She said her recommendation still would allow the public to choose among qualified candidates.

Donalds also challenged the notion that term limits would empower lobbyists and staff, positing that school district staff members already wield enormous control even without such limits.

To make the proposal more palatable, Donalds amended it so it would only be forward looking. In past forms, it would have been retroactive to count past service. Board members could seek reelection after leaving their seats for at least one election cycle.

Commissioner Sherry Plymale, former Florida Department of Education chief of staff, asked why the measure would apply only to school board members, and not other local officials.

Donalds said she would gladly add other offices, such as county commissioners, to the list, as she strongly supports term limits. But the measure spoke only to school boards at this point, and no one offered an amendment.

If the commission ultimately agrees to put this idea on the November ballot, it would require 60 percent support before taking effect. It would apply to elections held after Nov. 6, 2018.

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