SADOW: If You Don’t Think School Board Term Limits Work, Consider New Orleans

While this space has provided guidance on statewide Amendments 1 through 9 in upcoming elections, there remains for voters in 67 school districts the question of imposing terms limits locally – one the answer to which should be affirmative.

The official view of those satisfied with the current state of elementary and secondary education in Louisiana is that “the best term limit is the ballot box” because term limits “mandate removal of qualified members.” So what? It is the height of conceit and arrogance for any politician to consider oneself so talented as to be indispensible to the body politic, and a sign of intellectual laziness if not of a slavish willingness to surrender self-governance to think as such of any. It is folly to think that in any school board district in the state there is not at least one person who would be as good as, or better than, an incumbent in each.

But, as explained ably elsewhere, likely an enormous proportion of those capable unelected does not run or cannot run competitively because entrenched incumbency brings advantages particularly in contesting low-level offices over a governmental unit that typically has the largest budget, often by far, than any other local government. Worse, this disproportionately aids the stinkers sitting in those seats in retention, most particularly those tied in with special interests who like things as they are and who have disproportionate electoral and policy clout in a situation where policy benefits get concentrated in the hands of a few (politicians, administrators, employees, unions, ideological fellow-travelers) while their costs are dispersed among the many (the taxpaying public).

And it’s hard to conclude that there aren’t a number of stinkers out there given the sad but slowly improving shape of Louisiana education. Just as a thought experiment, consider the significant improvement of Orleans Parish schools since most of them were swept by the hurricane disasters of 2005 into the Recovery School District and as a requirement of that be made into charter schools. In effect, only the best schools were left under the Orleans Parish School Board and the remainder, as far as their governance was concerned, in effect found the OPSB members term-limited out and replaced with new individuals for each school.

No doubt that the greater policy implementation latitude afforded by charter status skillfully used by their employees has played a significant role in many schools’ relatively rapid increase in quality, not so much due the decisions made as policy by the schools’ boards. Yet these also doubtlessly played a role, and, in the most macro sense possible, is there any question that, had the prior leadership not faced this alternative form of term limitation, given its track record never would have approved of the charter concept in the first place perhaps for any school? The real-life history of Orleans schooling over the past half-dozen years provides more than enough face validity to the idea that capping service time on a school board greatly facilitates the injection of new ideas and energy that brings success.

This consideration makes the vote choice simple. If you think educational achievement can be improved even at one school in a district, term limits will increase the possibility that will happen (and in a less metaphorical way agrees with former Pres. Thomas Jefferson’s exhortation to shake things up periodically.) Thus, a vote for the local amendment is in order.

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