School board term limits

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 3, 2012

By Debbie Glover

Pontchartrain Newspapers

The ballot for the Nov. 6 election contains a proposal that will limit terms of school board members. Although the proposal appears on every ballot across the state, it will only go into effect in those parishes that elect to do so because it is a local option matter.

The school board term limit proposal will be effective only in those parishes that vote for term limits. If voters in an individual parish decide yes, the school board members will be limited to three consecutive four-year terms.

Two districts in the state already have term limits, Jefferson and Lafayette parishes, but others are exempt from this amendment including the Recovery School District and the governing authorities of charter schools.

The proposal states:

“Local option election: Shall the number of terms of office that any member of the school board may serve be limited to three consecutive four-year terms?”

A vote for would limit the time members could serve to three consecutive four-year terms beginning with the election after Jan. 1, 2014. This is a local option proposal and not a constitutional amendment.

A vote against would leave the situation as it is now.

School boards in the River Parishes have several members that have served multiple terms. They will also undergo district changes in the next election in 2014 due to the 2010 census, which may result in some incumbents running against each other and others retiring or choosing not to run.

In St. John the Baptist Parish, only Sherry Defrancesch and Rodney Nicholas are in their first term. In St. James Parish, no board member faced opposition during the last election cycle, so every board member in that parish is serving at least their second term. And in St. Charles Parish, only Arthur Aucoin and Melinda Bernard are in their first term. Board members Clarence Savoie and John Smith have served since 1986 and 1982, respectively.

Regarding the proposal, the Public Affairs Research Council states, “School board members in Louisiana tend to serve multiple terms, particularly in rural areas or small communities where it is hard to find people willing to run. The problem is that this kind of lengthy service can lead to a mindset of ‘we’ve always done things this way’ that discourages new ideas. Setting up term limits would build change into the governing systems of local school districts.”

PAR also presents the discussion against the proposal that, “Term limits undermine the rights and responsibility of voters to decide whether a school board member is effective and should be re-elected. Such limits are contrary to a true democratic process. Further, there is no mechanism provided in the bill for a district to undo term limits if voters should change their minds later.

“These limits can have the effect of pushing out effective and experienced school leaders. In addition, while term limits would bring in new members, the turnover would result in the loss of institutional knowledge. Further, it usually takes most elected officials at least one term to become knowledgeable and experienced enough to work most effectively.”

If term limits had been in effect, several current members of school boards in the River Parishes could not have run last year.

The question is simple: Would you prefer to have the choice to include an incumbent after 12 years or not? Election day is     Nov. 6.