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School board term limits head to House floor

Critics argue term limits are a solution in search of a problem.

Legislation imposing term limits on elected school board members on November’s ballot is heading to House floor.

The bill (HJR 157), sponsored by Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, passed the House Education Committee 11-4. Democratic Reps. Susan ValdezPatricia Williams and Delores Hogan Johnson voted no. Republican Thad Altman also voted no.

Sabatini’s measure to amend the state Constitution would cap the amount of time people could serve on a school board to eight years. There’s no limit on how long a school board member can currently stay in office. It would only apply to terms that start on or after Nov. 3, 2020, so school board members re-elected to a consecutive term could serve another eight years.

Sabatini said this doesn’t prohibit people running for school board positions if they have already served eight years. He said it does prohibit more than eight years of consecutive years in office.

“It mandates rotation,” he said. “It gives a new person an opportunity.”

Republican Rep. Byrd Cord said he has heard from small counties that the bill could make it harder to fill school board seats, but Sabatini doesn’t think that will be a problem.

“Even the most rural counties, Liberty County, Florida’s smallest county have overwhelmingly supported term limits,” he said.

The legislation is a priority for advocacy groups who support school choice. They argue new faces are needed for these important positions. Andy Dubois with Florida Citizens Alliance spoke in favor of the bill.

Sabatini argues his legislation would increase the competition for school board seats across the state, which, he said, are some of the most powerful elected officials in the state.

“They actually execute over $20 billion worth of spending for our education funds in Florida,” he said. “So that’s a really serious responsibility and we want people who are going to be coming in there with a fresh perspective.”

Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO contends fresh faces are already being elected to county school boards. He cited data from the Florida School Boards Association showing in 2018 36% of all seats flipped.

“The fresh faces are there,” Rich Templin with AFL-CIO said.

Valdez opposes the legislation based on her experience on the Hillsborough County School Board.

“It took me 14 years to be able to address the issues of my community, being able to lift all children in my community and be able to provide the best educational opportunity for my community,” she said.

Lawmakers are moving to put to the bill on the ballot even as they are considering legislation sponsored by Rep. Jamie Grant (HB  7037) that would make it harder for citizen initiatives to get on the ballot.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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