St. Charles voters may have the opportunity to impose term limits on public school board members later this year if a proposed bill passes through congress.
If passed, House Bill 292 would provide for an election in most local school districts to determine whether the members of the school board in that district will have term limits of three consecutive four-year terms. If the bill passes, the issue will be on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot.
St. Charles Parish School Board member Melinda Bernard, who is serving her first term, believes that limiting terms is a good thing.
"I feel this is a good idea," said Melinda Bernard. "I think term limits for elected officials allows for more involvement from interested citizens who would like the opportunity to serve.
"For our school board, I feel 12 years, or three terms, is a significant contribution for an individual to make…I think there would be sufficient continuity to allow the decision making to continue to be productive for our children and our school system."
However, some were absolutely opposed to the implementation of term limits.
"I think that bill is about as worthless as a screen door on a submarine," said board member Ellis Alexander. "It’s designed to dismantle school boards as we know it. And it calls for term limits for school boards of public schools but not for the Recovery School District or charter school board."
Most local School Board members said that they believe anyone who fails to do their duty would not be re-elected, eliminating the need to impose term limits.
"Election day serves as an opportunity for the electorate to term-limit every elected official," Al Suffrin said.
"When my constituency feels that I am no longer providing them with fair representation, they have the ability to cast their vote for someone else," said member Dennis Naquin. "Neither doctors, lawyers nor CEOs have term limits. Like board members, they have performance-based factors in place to remove or adjust their duties for failure to perform."
Sonny Savoie has been a member of the board for 26 years and he said that experience is always valuable on a school board.
"The longer you stay, the better you get at this – experience matters…for school board members I think the longer you’re in education, the better you’re going to be at it," Savoie said.
Some members were also concerned about the negative effects that term limits could have on the board.
"You’ve got a bunch of rookies in the legislature right now because of term limits and it’s about to be a blood bath for public education because they don’t know what they’re doing," Savoie said.
"I have seen examples where term limits have had a reverse effect," Suffrin said. "For example, an elected official is performing extremely well but is term limited, and is succeeded by someone who is not nearly as effective."
Naquin said that he also believes the decades of experience some board members have has been an important factor in the district’s success.
"The St. Charles Parish School Board has a good mix of members with diverse backgrounds," Naquin said. "Some members have been around for several terms while others are first-termers, thus allowing for experience and new ideas to co-mingle."