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School Board Term Limits Heads To House Floor With Uncertain Future

A school zone in Tallahassee
Valerie Crowder
A school zone in Tallahassee

A plan to term limit local school board members is still moving in the House following an affirmative vote in the chamber’s Education and Employment Committee Thursday. The measure has undergone changes, but that may not be enough to get it to the finish line.

“The solution/the suggestion has been offered year after year…amend the state constitution to allow districts to enact term limits," AFL-CIO Rich Templin told committee members. "We always want to try to get to the root of a problem of a piece of legislation. The root of the problem is that most of our counties don’t have the authority to enact term limits."

They still wouldn’t get that authority under Republican Rep. Sam Garrison’s proposal. The bill would put school board term limits to a statewide vote. Previous efforts to term limit school boards have gone nowhere but Garrison’s bill has gotten some traction. The original version of the plan would have asked voters to impose 8- year term limits on school boards and barred members from being paid. Under the newest version of the bill, the compensation language has been removed:

“It would apply only to terms of office beginning after 2022 and is not retroactive. That means current school board members would be able to serve an additional eight years after the adoption of the amendment," Garrison explained.

Still, school boards, and adjacent organizations are opposed to the proposal. Lobbyist Chris Doolan notes many local school board races are highly competitive.

“Turnover already exists. In every election cycle in the last 6 cycles, 40% turnover on your boards. People either quit, get beat or die. So two-thirds of the races were competitive. Do we need more competition? And third, institutional knowledge is based on experience. The longer a person servers the more they know. That’s not bad.”

There are also concerns the bill will hurt smaller, and rural school districts. Republican Rep. Melony Bell represents DeSoto, Hardee and part of Palk County and says some of those counties have a hard time recruiting candidates.

"I am a believer in term limits," she said, "however, you should allow each county to vote to decide what they want. Not a statewide blanket.”

Fellow Republican Rep. Joe Harding represents Levy and part of Marion County. There are similar recruitment problems in his district.

“That’s why you have one member who has served for 20 years and one whose served 30 years, unopposed. This is gong to be hard to implement in rural counties, but at the end of the day, this is policy I think is good for the state of Florida as a whole," Harding said.

Garrison’s proposal has cleared its last committee and now heads to the chamber floor, but its future of is uncertain. It has no Senate companion and other school board term limit bills have not been heard this session.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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