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Florida lawmakers renew push for school board term limits

The idea would require a three-fifths vote in each chamber before it could appear on the ballot.
Rep. Anthony Sabatini presents his bill to create school board term limits to the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee on Jan. 21, 2020. [The Florida Channel]
Rep. Anthony Sabatini presents his bill to create school board term limits to the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee on Jan. 21, 2020. [The Florida Channel]
Published Jan. 21

Reviving the slogan “Eight is Enough,” some state lawmakers began another effort Tuesday to establish term limits for school board members in Florida’s 67 counties.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey in the Hills, sponsored the proposal to force board members from office after eight consecutive years in office for the second year in a row. He contended the concept would have broad appeal in large and small counties, rural and urban ones.

The polls show backing that nears 80 percent regardless of party affiliation, Sabatini told the PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee, the first of three panels to hear the resolution for a constitutional amendment vote.

He stressed that HJR 157 would not enact term limits.

“This is a bill to give the voters the opportunity, if they wish, to vote to enact term limits,” he said.

Support in the hearing room was split fairly evenly for the idea.

Some speakers deemed term limits critically important to getting new people with fresh ideas into school district posts, while ousting some officials who have become embedded in their seats.

“To give us our voice, it’s going to take you guys," St. Johns County activist Kim Kendall told the panel.

Others argued that the decision to limit board member terms should be determined locally, and not imposed by voters in other places. They observed that many school board seats regularly turn over anyway.

“The question here is not about term limits good or term limits bad,” said Rich Templin of the AFL-CIO. Rather, it’s about giving the counties “the chance to decide for themselves.”

In other words, the debate sounded much like the past years’ conversation on the subject. And could foreshadow a similar outcome.

The House moved ahead with Sabatini’s bill a year ago, but the idea foundered in the Senate, where the three-fifths majority was hard to come by. Some senators favored the local vote concept, while others backed longer term limits.

Related: Should Florida school boards have term limits? Lawmakers aren't so sure.

This year, two school board term limit bills are in the Senate, including one by Sen. Joe Gruters to allow for three rather than two consecutive terms.

On the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee, the measure found some bipartisan support.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, said she backed giving Florida citizens the right to decide. Since the constitution grants school board powers, she said, a statewide referendum would suffice.

“If term limits are good for the president of the United States ... then I think term limits are also good for school board members,” Thompson said.

Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, said she is a strong backer of home rule and suggested the bill went against the grain for her. But she suggested that, barring such a move, some board members like one disruptive one in Polk County might never get removed.

So she backed the bill, too.

It wasn’t unanimous, though.

“I cannot support this bill,” said Rep. Delores Hogan-Johnson, D-Fort Pierce, one of a handful of members to oppose the bill. “This is government of the people, by the people and for the people. If we don’t like what’s happening, then we stand up to garner support to make things go our way.”

The bill has two more stops before it would arrive at the full House.


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  2. More than 100 people turned out Jan. 15, 2019, to give the Pasco County School Board their thoughts on the district's policy and procedures for transgender student rights. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  3. Hudson High student Kaitlyn Helzer introduces herself to a curious corn snake during the Nature Coast Envirothon, held Feb. 19 at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Sumter County. Students from Pasco, Hernando, Sumter and Citrus counties tested their knowledge on aquatics, forestry, soils and wildlife while vying for a spot at state competition. [MICHELE MILLER  |  Times]
  4. Incoming Superintendent Addison Davis (center) and School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) sign Davis' contract with the Hillsborough County School District after it was unanimously approved by the school board on February 18, 2020. [JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ  |  Times]
  5. Teacher Dequita Parker guides youngsters to lunch from the playground Sept. 20 at the PromiseLand Early Childhood Education Center in Tampa.
  6. Associate professor of biology Caitlin Gille leads the Pasco-Hernando State College faculty union, which challenged the school's public comment rules.  (Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Gille)
  7. Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader of the Florida Senate Democrats, introduces a bill in January to refocus the $900 million proposed for teacher pay into salaries for all public school employees. It's just one of many ideas still floating around Tallahassee relating to educator raises. [The Florida Channel]
  8. A small group of students were rushed inside a bus at dismissal at AMIKids on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 in Pinellas Park.  [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
  9. School employees Jarvis Delon West, left, and Dontae Antonio Thomas, right, were both arrested in connection with the assault and injury of a 12-year-old boy who attended AMIkids in Pinellas Park. The state shut the school down. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
  10. First Lady Casey DeSantis talks with students during the Hope for Healing a mental and substance abuse initiative held Roland Park K-8 School in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, May 16, 2019. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said state officials worked closely with DeSantis to craft the new rule. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
  11. In this Feb. 14, 2018, photo, students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after a shooter opened fire on the campus. [MIKE STOCKER  |  AP]
  12. Pinellas County School Board member Carol Cook, left, celebrates her reelection to her fifth term in 2016. If ultimately approved, a term limits proposal would force Florida's school board members out after two consecutive terms.