School board term limits inch closer to 2020 vote

The state Supreme Court knocked the idea off the 2018 ballot.
Published March 28, 2019|Updated March 29, 2019

With broad bipartisan support, a resolution that would ask voters to decide whether “Eight is Enough” for Florida school board members headed on Thursday to the state House floor.

The move to limit school board member terms to two consecutive four-year terms (HJR 229) passed its final panel of reference 15-3, with some Democrats joining the majority Republicans on the Education Committee to back the idea that government is best served with a rotation of new faces with fresh ideas.

“It provides actual representative government,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, the Naples Republican whose wife, Erika, sponsored the idea in the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission.

The Florida Supreme Court removed the item from the November ballot, because of concerns with the way the item was bundled with two other proposals that were deemed unclear.

“It doesn’t take away local control,” Donalds said, advocating for the bill. “What it does is change the names on the plates of the people who sit at the table.”

That issue of local control drove the opposition to the proposal.

Chris Doolin, who represents small county school districts, told the committee the proposal is about the ability of a local community to select its own officials. Voters statewide should not govern that level of government, he suggested, calling upon lawmakers to “fix” the bill by asking voters to allow for countywide referenda on school board term limits.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Citrus County Republican, said he could support an idea like what Doolin suggested to make the decision “a little more local.”

But Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, argued that such a move would be misguided. School boards and other local governments are a function established by the state, Fine observed, and the way to determine how they are set up and operate correctly belongs with state voters.

“It is not a decision that should be made in every town in every community,” Fine said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Anthony Sabatini stressed that the proposal does not stop true community servants from sitting on school boards for long stretches. It just would require them to step away after eight years, and take a break before they choose to run again.

That would take away the “unfair advantage” of incumbency, Sabatini said, leaving room for others who aspire to serve.

While the House bill has moved quickly, the Senate has taken more time with its version (SJR 274). It narrowly passed through its first of three assigned committees, and has not been scheduled for its next hearing.

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