Niskayuna school district voters on the May school ballot will be asked whether future school board members should be elected to four-year terms – up from the current three years.
The school board on Tuesday approved placing the question on the May 18 ballot, when voters will also be asked to approve a district budget and elect board members, leaving the final decision up to voters.
Board member Brian Backus proposed the change in the term lengths, arguing the longer terms would lessen turnover on the board, give members more time to learn the position and stabilize district leadership as a major capital project gets underway.
“In my experience working with schools and being board members, I strongly believe it takes you until the beginning of your third year to actually have an idea of what is going on and how to be a productive member of the board,” Backus said Tuesday. “I think it helps with continuity, and it helps ensure a smooth transition for us moving forward.”
Board member Sarah Rogerson – who was elected last year and said she “respectfully dissented” from the idea it takes three years to learn the role of board member – countered that the shorter terms could also mean a greater diversity of voices and leadership opportunities in the district. That turnover could bring new ideas to the table.
“The flip side of continuity is having more voices in the mix in leadership positions and giving people in the community an opportunity to serve and to lift up the voices of their group,” Rogerson said.
Other board members pointed out that the four-year terms would mean a greater time commitment at the outset and could deter some people from running for a seat.
If voters do approve the longer board terms, it would only apply to seats that go up in subsequent elections. (The change would not impact the length of any board member’s current term.) Districts in the state can have board terms of three, four or five years, depending on the type of district.
Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. expressed support for the argument that the longer terms would help create consistency in district leadership – though noted the decision was not his to make. He said a previous district he worked at had longer terms, and the board members he worked for changed little during his tenure.
“We grew together as a governance team,” Tangorra said Wednesday of his previous experience. “There wasn’t that constant changing every year.”
The board unanimously approved the resolution to add the question to the May ballot, leaving the final decision to district voters. The resolution would establish the new four-year terms beginning July 1, 2022, the terms for members elected during the May 2022 budget vote. One of the board seats that goes up for election that year will remain a three-year term in order to spread the board seat elections evenly.
“It’s up to our voters,” board member Noney Grier said Tuesday. “I think it’s important for them to get to make the choice.”