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Term Limits for County School Boards?


Legislation passed by the Florida House Education Committee would create a proposed constitutional amendment asking voters to place eight-year term limits on members of county school boards.

House Joint Resolution 229 places the same term limits on county school boards, as are in place for state lawmakers and other offices. The termed-out members could run for office again once they sit out an election cycle.

“I’m here because of term limits; if not, I’m sure the prior occupant of my seat would have been there for a long time and [that’s] probably true of your own,” said Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R–Orlando), the bill’s sponsor. He feels term limits bring fresh ideas whenever and wherever they’re implemented.

“We are very familiar with term limits here in the Legislature; we have them ourselves,” Sabatini told the committee. “I’d think very few people would doubt that they have significantly helped our institution by bringing in fresh, new, good voices into the Legislature. Term limits have actually made us, according to many academic studies, younger and more diverse.”

Sabatini contends that term limits have enabled what he calls a  “wider, different spectrum of new folks just coming into the system.” Another question to be answered, is why does term limits on school boards merit a constitutional amendment?

Credit myfloridahouse.gov
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Orlando).

“Constitutional officers, in this case, the only way to term limit them is through the constitution,” Sabatini said. “I hardly ever bring up polls, but a poll showed last year when this topic was taken up by the Legislature, 82 percent of Floridians wanted eight-year term limits for school board members in the state of Florida.”

“This legislation doesn’t give people the freedom to decide whether or not they want term limits in their communities; it imposes term limits on those communities that may not want them,” said Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO. He adds that local communities should be allowed to decide how long their school board members serve.

“Why are we not talking about a constitutional amendment that allows all of the 67 counties the ability through local referenda to impose term limits on their school boards?” asked Templin. “What we are talking about is allowing voter-rich areas of the state to fundamentally change local governments in communities they may never visit.”

The focus, says Templin, should be giving voters the right to choose – or reject – term limits for themselves.

“It’s an easy fix; if everybody wants term limits, let’s put that item on the ballot,”
 Templin said. “I’m sure that would pass, and you would probably see term limits pop up all over the state. But they wouldn’t be imposed all across the state.”

“The League of Women Voters opposes this bill; we are in strong support of home rule and we believe this bill will violate that,” said the League’s state office. She also argued that chartered counties – and not Tallahassee – should make the decision for school board term limits.

“This body often complains about federal oversight onto this state; but yet, you guys are real quick to then turn around and try to do the same thing to our counties,” Springer told the panel. “Our counties are governing bodies that speak to their constituents oftentimes more than you all do. And they know what their constituents want.”

HJR 229 is now ready for consideration by the full House. If approved by the full legislature, it would go on the 2020 ballot -- where 60 percent voter support would be required for passage.