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Voters will decide on term limits for School Board

Kyle Barnett -   Nov 01, 2012

Voters will decide on term limits for School Board

On Nov. 6, voters will weigh in on whether or not they believe local school board members should be limited to three consecutive terms. Currently, school board members have no term limits and can hold their seats for decades if they get re-elected every four years.

The ballot initiative is titled ĎLocal Option Electioní and would only allow for school board members to serve in 12-year stretches at the most. However, after missing a term school board members could run again.

St. Charles Parish School Board President Alex Suffrin, who is in his second term on the board, said he thinks term limits are unnecessary because voters have a chance to vote out school members every four years anyway.

"I think election day serves as an opportunity for the electorate to vote us out of office," Suffrin said. "I do tend to agree that the individual that is currently in office, if they are not performing well, then the electorate needs to really consider that and vote them out of office."

District 6 board member Jay Robichaux said that is exactly how he got into office ten years ago.

"We had a school board member before me that was in office for 36 years and every four years somebody had a chance to run against him and beat him," Robichaux said. "I just chose to do it one of those terms."

Robichaux said it should really be up to the voters to decide if school board members are doing a good job or not and take that into consideration at the voting booth rather than have an automatic term limit.

"If you have someone who is dedicating a good portion of their life and they are doing the right thing why not let them stay?" he said. "Itís not like a federal office where it takes millions of dollars to get into office and you take millions from people to run for office. I can understand how that could be questionable, but for the local office I donít understand why we have term limits at all."

Suffrin said it could be a risky proposition to make someone leave the school board solely based on term limits, especially when whoever would takeover would lack the deep institutional knowledge long-term school board members possess.

"I think itís a negative if somebody is obviously doing a good job and it forces them out and then somebody gets elected because of a lack of anyone else and they arenít willing to do what it takes," Suffrin said. "Let me tell you, serving on the school board is truly – to do it right – is truly a public service because it takes a total commitment. Youíve got to be willing to do what it takes to do a good job."

District 1 School Board Member Ellis Alexander said it does not make sense to require term limits for some local offices, but not others.

"Iím against term limits period. Either you are going to have it for everyone or you donít have it at all and we donít have it for everybody," he said.

Local offices that do not have term limits include the sheriff, the clerk of court, district attorney, parish judges, the assessor, registrar of voters, coroner, constables and justices of the peace.

Alexander said the ballot initiative was put in place by state legislators as a way to further dilute local control of public education.

"I think it is part of the governorís initiative to destroy or do away with school boards, local school boards," Alexander said. "It seems to me that there is a movement for states to take over the educational system."

Alexander said it ties into the stateís recent decision to expand the Louisiana Scholarship Program that allows certain students to opt out of attending public schools and provides money that ordinarily would have gone to those public schools for private school tuition.

"Right now they are taking money - local money - and distributing it all over the state to private and parochial schools," Alexander said. "There is a reason why they created private schools - itís because certain people didnít want to go to public schools so they started their own schools and funded them. Now we have some knuckleheads making the decision to fund private schools."

Suffrin said if the measure was ratified by voters, it would not start until 2014 and that time served on the board before then would not be counted.

"For it to impact me I would have to serve 20 years, and Iím not going to serve 20 years," he said.

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