The Advocate’s Editors Preserve Their Near-Perfect Record Of Policy Whiffs…

…with today’s endorsement of entrenched petty tyrants on local school boards.

On Nov. 6, one of the constitutional amendments being decided by Louisiana voters will be the installation of school board term limits. Two parishes – Lafayette and Jefferson – already have term limits, and now the rest of the state will engage in a series of local votes to either install them or not.

And naturally, Baton Rouge’s left-leaning newspaper – which seemingly opposes any efforts to change to the state’s worst school system on a dollar-for-dollar basis (that being the dysfunctional, wasteful and corrupt operation in East Baton Rouge) – says that voters in the Capitol City should vote to leave things as they are.

Maybe it’s a cliché, but we continue to believe that the best term limit is the ballot box.

The mandated elections in each school district are part of the larger war between school boards, which run traditional school systems, and the self-styled reformers who have pushed dramatic changes in the shape of public education in recent years.

It is an increasingly bitter divide that we think is regrettable. School board members, long-serving or not, should be energetic school reformers, too — and the reform brigades would benefit from listening to, and working with, board members who supervise, after all, most of the schools educating children in Louisiana.

Term limits of 12 consecutive years of service would be required in any district where voters approve the ballot proposition.

The limit would take effect with elections after Jan. 1, 2014, which means that even board members who have served for decades could do so for another 12 years if local voters backed the limits. A vote against the “local option” blocks term limits.

Term limits have proved popular but their effect is, of course, to mandate removal of qualified members, just as they might remove unqualified members who are able to get re-elected. In the latter case, does it not stand to reason that voters would have already excused those members anyway?

The point of term limits is to insure that officeholders are focused on serving the public, not feeding at the trough. And the longer someone sits on something like a local school board, the more tempting the trough is.

What’s more, the longer someone sits on something like a local school board, the more pleasing the status quo appears.

We have that problem in Baton Rouge. There are several members of that school board who like things precisely as they are and they’ll fight any effort to alter that status quo. Only the removal of the sticks-in-the-mud will introduce any dynamism to that board.

East Baton Rouge is no different than anywhere else. And there are school boards a lot worse even than the one in EBR. Vermilion Parish comes to mind.

The ballot box might be the best source of term limits in theory, but the Advocate’s editors ought to have been around long enough to know that’s not how it works in real life. In real life, a school board election is so far down the ballot that once somebody gets elected it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them. There is big money flowing through school districts, as in many parishes they’re the top employer, and lucrative contracts are to be voted on by school board members. So the vested interests are a generous source of campaign donations and those war chests serve as a firewall against electoral challenges.

Not to mention that very few people actually care who’s on the local school board. If you don’t have kids in public schools, it’s hard to pay attention – most of the issues debated at school boards are very much “in the weeds” and unless the board becomes full of wackos who want to ban the valedictorian at the high school from thanking God for those straight A’s, a school system can go straight down the tubes without the majority of the voters or taxpayers having a clue.

Because let’s face it – who’s going to run for the school board? Sure, people who care about education. But there is no more perfect example of an entry-level elected job than the local school board. So first-time candidates at that level are notoriously under-funded and clueless. Manage to get elected to a school board and you can be almost guaranteed that no matter how hideously incompetent or corrupt you prove yourself to be, every four years you’re going to face an opponent (if you even get one) with one foot in the electoral grave on qualifying day. No money, no name recognition, no clue – and that means you’re going to win re-election more or less every time.

And so without term limits, even the awful school board members will likely hang on unless they decide to run for something like the police jury or parish council or the Legislature. But because the school board is an entry-level elected office, the people who do hang on rather than run for something else are usually the awful school board members.

One has to assume the people at the Advocate know all this. So why are they opposing term limits?

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