During the recent legislative session, LABI and other education reform advocates supported HB 292 by Rep. Steve Pugh (R-Ponchatoula) to allow voters in each local school district the option to enact a 3-term limit on school board members. The bill narrowly passed the Legislature (with only 20 yea votes in the Senate, there were no votes to spare) due to intense opposition from defenders of the status quo, but it did pass and became Act 386. The proposition will be on the November 6 ballot in every school district but the two that have already enacted local school board term limits, Jefferson and Lafayette Parishes. The proposition is prospective, so the term limits would commence with the beginning of the next elected term (so current school board members would have an additional 12 years–three consecutive 4-year terms–beyond the current term).
LABI and other pro-education reform groups are now engaged in informing citizens that the term limit proposition will be on their local ballots – following the proposed constitutional amendments and amongst other local initiatives – and to urge support for their passage in EVERY district!
Elected school boards across Louisiana expend billions of tax dollars and set policy for about 700,000 children in public schools. There are many excellent school board members in our state. However, because the state’s educational problems persist with hundreds of thousands of students – about one-third – lacking basic academic skills, we need to improve leadership and effectiveness by bringing more stakeholders into the process.
We cannot afford to become too closely tied to any particular system, approach, or strategy. New leadership will serve to renew the high expectations we must have to succeed, and term limits will help keep school boards mission-focused, as members would have 12 years—grades 1-12 for a student—to influence how boards support efforts to improve academic achievement.
Term limits are necessary for local school board members. It is well-known that incumbents have an advantage over political newcomers. And the challenges facing public education today require new school board members with fresh ideas who are not tied to an entrenched system. After 12 years of service, it is time for a different voice and perspective in the process. Furthermore, nothing prohibits a popular, experienced candidate from sitting out for four years and returning for another three consecutive terms. Additionally, if voters are truly happy with their school boards and believe there is no room to improve in their local school districts, they may simply reject the concept of term limits when they vote in November. However, if they think there is room for improvement, enacting term limits is one way to gain it. The proposal is not onerous, nor is it designed to shut out people dedicated to public service who want to serve on the school board in the best interest of students.
A major goal of term limits and other types of school board reforms is to re-focus local school boards from micromanaging local operations, which is the responsibility of the superintendent, to setting overall policy and creating a school district where the student is the top priority, not jobs, contracts or other adult concerns. Additionally, this proposal aligns school board members with the term limits of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the Louisiana Legislature, and other governmental entities.
Opponents of school board term limits have raised a couple of issues to steer the intent of the proposition away from poorly performing public schools to creating controversies where none exist. They are making claims that local school board members are under attack because many citizens are for term limits.
Specifically, they are asking why the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) was excluded from having its governing board term limited (the RSD was not in the legislation). This is an easy one: the RSD is governed by BESE, which already has a 3-term limit on its members.
Further, opponents are asking whey charter school boards are excluded from term limits.
Charter school boards are not elected (nor publicly appointed), and HB 292 was an instrument calling for a statewide election to enact term limits on elected officials.
Furthermore, charter school board members:
- Serve as volunteers at the request of a nonprofit organization;
- Are prohibited by state law from receiving compensation or conducting business with the school;
- Are required to participate in annual ethics training and to file personal financial disclosure statements;
- Make decisions for only one school, not an entire district;
- Frequently come under term limits as part of the nonprofit organization’s by-laws;
- Are created and overseen by the authorizer, which receives significant information about the charter school board, its roles and responsibilities, and its bylaws as part of the charter contract. (Authorizers at this point are local school boards and BESE. A third type of authorizer is now allowed (specific types of nonprofit organizations) but thus far none have applied to BESE.
- Can be dissolved as a board after only five years because charter schools can be shut down by the authorizer if the students do not meet their performance targets; and
- There is no instance in state law, or a state-authorized election, whereby term limits have been imposed on a nonprofit, non-governmental entity as a result of receiving and expending state funds. Bill supporters did not want to set a precedent whereby nonprofit groups could potentially face term limits on their nonprofit governing boards simply because they receive public dollars to provide a public service.
School boards continue to make most of the major decisions of the district on budgetary matters and policies affecting thousands of employees and students. Without changes in leadership—sometimes over decades—policies and operations can become entrenched and resistant to new ideas. Opening the office to fresh ideas and perspectives is critical to moving forward in improving educational opportunities in Louisiana.