School board term limit support overwhelming

Voters in all 67 public school districts that decided whether to enact term limits for school board members Tuesday did so by extraordinary margins, according to complete but unofficial election results.

Support for the limits ranged from 70 percent to 85 percent.

In addition, the proposal won the support of 80 percent or more of the vote in 12 school districts — 18 percent of those statewide.

Voters in most districts approved the new rules — a maximum of 12 consecutive years — by margins of 3 to 1.

Only voters in the Baker School District, where the plan drew the support of 69.7 percent of voters, came in under 70 percent without rounding.

“People like term limits,” said state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville and Senate sponsor of the plan, which amounted to a local option for voters.

The Republican’s senatorial district includes parts of St. Tammany Parish, whose school district approved term limits with 85 percent of the vote — tops in the state.

The limits were approved by 75 percent of voters in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, 83 percent in Central and 76 percent in Zachary.

Lafayette and Jefferson parishes were excluded from Tuesday’s vote because voters there already approved limits on how long school board members can serve, also by lopsided margins.

Under current rules, school board members can serve indefinitely.

Under the change approved Tuesday, board members will be limited to 12 consecutive years — three terms — starting with elections held after Jan. 1, 2014.

The measure is not retroactive, which means that, regardless of how long someone has served, he or she would be assured of another 12 years starting in 2014 if voters return him or her to office.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said Tuesday’s vote is in keeping with other such measures that have won lopsided approval in Louisiana. The LSBA has 654 members.

Richard cited terms limits for state lawmakers, which voters approved with 76 percent of the vote in 1995.

But backers said Tuesday’s resounding vote is in keeping with the state’s recent push to improve public schools.

Stephanie Desselle, who specializes in education issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana, said the results “send a powerful message that Louisiana voters expect new direction from its school boards.”

Richard said his group does not keep figures on average years of service of school board members.

Critics contend that it is not unusual to find panel members who have served for 30 or more years, especially in small school districts.

“They are like little kings and queens,” said Brigitte Nieland, who follows education issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which backed the measure.

“They are so entrenched,” Nieland said.