Editorial: Longer school board terms not best for voters

Five years too long between votes, longer terms might scare off good candidates
School board elections at Schenectady High School, May 17, 2016.
School board elections at Schenectady High School, May 17, 2016.


Five years is a long time to expect someone to serve and a long time for voters to be saddled with the same representatives on their local school board.

So while extending the terms of Schenectady school board members to five years from the current three might help school board members learn the job better, it’s best for voters if they stay at the current three-year-term.

Some board members claim it takes at least three years to get up to speed on all the rules and regulations and issues that school board members must deal with. They feel with more uninterrupted time in office without having to seek re-election, they can to a better job.

But there are some problems with that.

The longer the terms, the less democratic the process ultimately is.

A five-year term means voters would have to wait five years to replace a school board member who is doing a poor job. That also means citizens would have no opportunity to vote for other candidates or to run for a seat themselves.

Five years is a pretty long commitment to ask someone to make. Five-year terms might discourage candidates from running for office or from serving out their entire terms.

If potential candidates feel like they can’t devote that many years of their life to this endeavor, then good candidates might not put themselves up for election, depriving voters of their service.

Any government job is going to come with a learning curve. There are many offices — including congressman and state legislator — that only give new office-holders two years to get up to speed. Voters understand that a job like this can’t be learned overnight.

And it’s not like new school board members are left to sink or swim on their own.

Aside from receiving guidance from their new colleagues on the board, state law requires new board members to complete mandatory training that includes fiscal oversight and governance skills training. The state school boards association offers online courses and regional academies for this.

We’re also not convinced that the learning curve of a school board member can be cured by a five-year term. What the board members supporting this initiative are essentially saying is that they are ineffective for the first three years of the term anyway and that more experienced board members carry the board while they learn. How will a five-year term make any of them better board members during those first three years?

Yes, running for re-election to school board can be time-consuming and expensive. But school board races are not traditionally as arduous as are campaigns for other political offices. They often don’t require candidates to obtain as many signatures to get on the ballot, don’t require political party endorsements and often don’t require as much money, which means less time needed for fund-raising and filing campaign finance reports.

If the school board does decide to move forward with a five-year term, it should not do it without putting the question up for voter approval. This issue is best decided by the citizens who will be affected.

Most school boards manage well with a mix of veterans and novices. The potential benefits of the longer terms don’t outweigh the potential negatives to district residents.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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