NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna Board of Education is considering a public referendum over whether to extend school board terms from three to four years, a change that would not affect the length of terms of member currently on the board.
Board member Brian Backus proposed the lengthened board terms at last week’s board meeting, arguing it takes board members time to understand the role and that lengthening terms would help stabilize leadership in the district.
“Once you get to the board, you don’t know what you are getting yourself into,” Backus said at the meeting. “By the time you get a really good handle on what you are doing, the roles and responsibilities… you are wrapping up your third year.”
Backus noted the district’s long-term capital projects plan and the goal to eventually get on a five-year cycle of projects to keep up with facilities improvements, indicating less churn among board members would provide more effective stewardship over the district.
With a positive public vote, the district could adopt new board terms of either four or five years, which would start as current terms ended.
A handful of districts in the Capital Region elect board members to terms as long as five years, including North Colonie, South Colonie, Canajoharie and Sharon Springs. A proposal in Schenectady a few years ago to consider extending board terms fizzled out. Schenectady and other small city districts could only choose between three- or five-year terms.
Backus suggested the district next year could ask voters to approve four-year terms, and that board members elected in 2022 would be seated for the lengthened terms. He said boosting terms to five years would probably not go over well with residents.
“I think we would scare a lot of customers away if we went to five [years], but I think four might be a reasonable number,” said Backus, who has served on the board since 2017 and was elected to his current term a year ago.
School Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr., noting his experiences with boards that had longer term lengths, said from the perspective of a district leader the more stability at the board level the better.
“We really were able to form some continuity among the governance team, because it wasn’t changing every year,” Tangorra said at the meeting, referring to a former district he worked in. “I liked it better when terms were longer, because we had more time to work together and form a stronger team.”
Tangorra said an attorney would be on hand at a planned work session next week, giving the board the chance to ask about the logistics of proposing to the public lengthened board terms.
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