by Will Sentell
Capitol news bureau
December 05, 2012
After years of off and on debates, voters in most school districts will decide on Nov. 6 whether to limit local school board members to 12 consecutive years of service.
“I think probably a majority of the school districts will be in favor of term limits,” said state Rep. Stephen Pugh, R-Ponchatoula and sponsor of the 2012 bill that sparked next month’s vote.
Under current rules, local school board members can serve indefinitely.
The only exceptions are Lafayette Parish, which approved a term limit plan in 2006 with 88 percent support, and Jefferson Parish.
The vote represents a local option on the issue.
Under the ballot measure, voters of each school district that approves the change will limit time on local boards to three consecutive, four-year terms.
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.
Districts that reject the measure will allow local board members to continue to serve for an unlimited number of years.
The issue has surfaced several times in recent years during Louisiana’s push to improve public schools.
In 2009 a bid by state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, to impose term limits without a statewide vote died in a House committee.
In 2010 legislation that would let local voters decide the issue — similar to this year’s plan — passed the House but died in a Senate committee.
Pugh’s plan won final House approval April 4 by a vote of 62-35.
On May 22 the proposal passed the Senate 20-16, the minimum number of “yes” votes needed.
Pugh said submitting the issue to local voters made the difference.
“It has been tried several times in the past and never got through committees,” he said.
“But by leaving it as a local option for each school district, I think that was the (decisive) factor,” Pugh added.
Local school boards set a wide range of financial and other policies for their schools.
However, their authority was curbed in legislation earlier this year, in part because critics contended local board members were meddling in day-to-day school operations.
The Louisiana School Boards Association, which has opposed term limits for years, has not taken a formal stance this time, LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard said.
But leaders of the group, which includes 654 members, question the need for any new rules.
“We feel as if term limits are inherently in place already through the formal election process,” Richard said.
He said LSBA officials believe there is value to school board experience and that turnover means a loss of institutional knowledge.
State Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette and a co-sponsor of the legislation, said she thinks most school districts will embrace the change.
“I do believe it will pass in a majority of the parishes,” Champagne said.
Brigitte Nieland, vice president for workforce development and research at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said limiting board service to 12 years is hardly a radical idea.
Nieland said term limits will prevent members from becoming “entrenched and comfortable.”
The state has 70 public school districts.
The ballot measure will not be submitted to voters in Lafayette and Jefferson parishes and does not apply to the state-run Recovery School District, which is overseen by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.