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Does Florida need school board term limits?

MICHELE MILLER | TIMES Pasco County School Board member and Dade City insurance executive Allen Altman greets voters on Tuesday, Aug. 28 at voting precinct 83 in the Heritage Springs community in Trinity. It was the seventh polling spot for Altman, who still had a few more to go by mid-day. Altman, was first elected in 2006 is the longest running school board member.
Published Aug. 29, 2018
Updated Aug. 30, 2018

One of the three parts of proposed Amendment 8 to the Florida constitution would limit school board members to two consecutive terms.

Tuesday's election results allow voters to consider whether that's really necessary.

On the one hand, Pasco County board member Allen Altman walked into a fourth term. Palm Beach County board member Debra Robinson won a sixth. All Sarasota County incumbents easily grabbed reelection, even despite that board's well publicized feuding.

On the other, the chairmen of the Hernando and Hillsborough school boards lost outright. A Martin County board member and wife of influential Senate President Joe Negron lost. A Manatee County board member appointed by Gov. Rick Scott lost.

The variety of results left Florida School Boards Association executive director Andrea Messina certain that term limits aren't needed.

"I think voters are smart enough to keep elected officials that they believe are serving them well, and, whether true or not, if they see someone who needs to be replaced, voters are willing to replace them," Messina said. Tuesday offers an "absolute example of why in school board races, as we have said, it's not necessary."

Outgoing Collier County board member Erika Donalds, who sponsored the term limits measure on the Constitution Revision Commission, remained unswayed.

She noted that in the city of Bonita Springs, voters adopted term limits for commissioners by a wide margin. Given the opportunity, Donalds said, voters would likely do the same for school boards.

"Remember, the only way school board term limits can be enacted at the local level [without a constitutional amendment]  is for school board members to put it on the ballot. That has happened zero times," Donalds said. "Voters never have had the chance to decide."

She acknowledged the anecdotal incidents of incumbents losing. But she raised the question of how many faced token opposition or how many potential candidates stayed out because they understand the power of incumbency.

Donalds noted her own case, in which she regularly is invited as a board member to speak at graduations and other events, and is introduced as a public official.

"You can't compete with giving a speech in front of 2,000 people during an election," said Donalds, who did not seek a second term. "I absolutely think term limits are still necessary, and the voters should have the opportunity to vote on them."

For now, Amendment 8 remains in limbo, with the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments Sept. 5 on whether it belongs on the ballot. More court briefs are due today.

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