The Senate Education Committee passed legislation (SJR 1216) Monday that would put school board term limits on November’s ballot.
The 5-3 vote was along party lines, with Democratic Sens. Bill Montford, Lori Berman and Janet Cruz voting no. Republican Sens. Manny Diaz, Keith Perry, David Simmons and Kelli Stargel supported the bill. Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill’s sponsor, obviously also voted yes.
If voters approve statewide term limits for school board members, the measure would amend the state Constitution to cap the amount of time people could serve to eight years consecutively. There’s currently no limit on how long a school board member can 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.
Rich Templin with Florida AFL-CIO said a better solution would be to amend the bill so local governments could each decide if they wanted to impose term limits on school board members, rather than imposing it on those who don’t want it.
Supporters point to polls they say show 82% of Florida voters back the idea, including 85% of Republicans, 80% of Democrats and 82% of independents.
But Chris Doolin with the Small School District Council Consortium said it’s a solution in search of a problem.
“My question is if the poll says 85% across the state want to have this and it reflects that in every district, why don’t the special interests that want this go the signature route,” he said. “Why are they going to the Legislature to ask you to do their bidding?”
Cruz said she was voting no because she questioned why the constitutional amendment would only place term limits on school board members.
“It’s not for sheriffs, it’s not for clerks of the court, it’s not for property appraisers,” she said. “I’m all in for fulfilling the will of the voters, but I think that the fact that we’re only targeting school board members is a red flag for me.”
The bill is a priority for groups that promote school choice, including the Florida Citizens Alliance.
Baxley said he will accept voters’ decision if they decide not to impose term limits on school board members. But he added, it’s presumptuous of lawmakers to assume that whoever is on a school board or in the Legislature knows best and should stay in office indefinitely.
“We suspect many, many people do want more open government that is more transitional, more responsive and less powered by incumbency,” he said. “And we’re going to see if that’s true.”