House Committee Advances Term Limits For School Board Members

Jan 29, 2020

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Most elected officials in Florida have term limits. That includes the Governor, members of the House and Senate and the state’s Congressional Delegation. Local school board members however don’t have those restrictions. A lawmaker is trying to give voters the opportunity to change that.

So far Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont) has presented his school board term limit bill twice. Both times he’s had to say the bill doesn’t actually change anything.

"This is actually not a bill that creates school board term limits in the state of Florida," says Sabatini. "This is a bill that creates a constitutional referendum this November for the citizens of Florida to choose whether they want school board term limits in the state of Florida."

Sabatini says the idea came from polls.

"Eighty-two percent of Floridians want term limits in the state of Florida. There is not a single count that polled less than 75% in support," explained Sabatini. "That’s including when you break it down with republicans, democrats, independents. This is just a good government bill."

Rich Templin of Florida AFL-CIO says "we don’t make policy in the Florida Legislature based on polls."

"If we did that there are many issues that have been passed through this body based on the public support for them." Templin continued. "Arguing that this high polling right now as justification to passage of the bill would be like when you run for reelection and you get a poll back and it says, ‘oh I’m polling at 75% I’ll just pack up and go home and wait to get reelected,’ none of you would do that.

Templin says polls aren’t the best way to measure real views on a subject because they lack a forum for discussion first.

"I have worked on numerous constitutional amendment issues where we start polling at 88% and by the time the issue passes it’s down to 68%. And that’s because there was a discussion people were given the other side. This was an automated poll there was no conversation," expressed Templin.

He believes a better way to measure the bill is to see if it’s needed.

"So we do need to ask what’s the problem being addressed here. First understand that 20 of Florida’s most populous counties can have term limits on their school boards right now." explained Templin.

Templin thinks the question should be addressed by each county, allowing local residents to choose whether they want the change. Rep. Margaret Good (D-Sarasota) agrees.

"I would be in support of amending this constitutional amendment to allow that across all 67 counties and across all the school districts. But I don’t think that this is a decision that we should be pushing forward onto the agenda," said Good.

Rep. Bobby DuBose (D-Ft. Lauderdale) thinks districts should have the option to keep someone past the 8 years.

"If you have locally a school board member that has been there say eight years and has done an excellent job. and the voters locally really want that person to stay by 80, 90, 95% were telling them no, locally you’re wrong we’re changing this," explained DuBose.

Sabatini, who began serving as a member of the Florida Army National Guard in 2008, says the idea of always changing who leads a position stems army practices.

"There’s a fundamental concept in the military and that’s the rotation of leadership," started Sabatini. "No matter how good you’re doing in any position in the military and any branch in the military they’re going to be moving you around they don’t want you to stay in one position. There’s a distrust in that," he explained.

"Over the course of hundreds of years the military has institutionalized that. And I think it’s important to do that in politics. If you’re doing a great job like some of us have done in local government. I see a lot of local government folks on this panel. Folks want to move you up, new positions test your skills in different ways of public service."

The bill passed its second committee Wednesday with no Democratic support. In its first stop it received a Yes vote from one Democrat. Palm Beach Democrat Representative Matt Willhite co-sponsors the legislation.

Florida Republican Party Chair Representative Joe Gruters and Plantation Democratic Senator Lauren Book are sponsoring similar measures. So far neither senate proposal has had a hearing. There’s five weeks left in this year’s legislative session.