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Birmingham School Board Votes to Return to 4-Year Terms for Members

After hearing opposition to six-year terms from community members, the board votes 5-2 to stick with four-year terms.

Members of the Birmingham Board of Education will continue serving four-year terms, after the school board voted Tuesday night to strike down an earlier plan for six-year term limits.

School board members informally decided to extend their term limits to six years at their March 6 meeting in response to the passing of what is now Public Act 232 and 233 last fall, which requires Michigan school districts to hold elections during November of even-numbered years.

Since 2004, school districts have had the option of conducting school board elections in May or November of odd-numbered years. However, under the new legislation, school board elections will be held at the same time as presidential and gubernatorial elections.

However, in a last-minute addition to the Tuesday night agenda, school board members noted they're feeling the heat from community members who feel six years is too long a term limit for locally elected officials.

"My constituents are telling me, 'Don't go for six years,'" school board trustee Rob Lawrence said.

Originally, the board wanted to move toward six-year terms to protect against large turnover on the school board and to ensure trustees know what they're doing.

Trustees Lori Soifer and Michael Fenberg echoed those concerns again Tuesday night, noting that should the board stick with four-year terms, by 2016 up to four members of the board would be up for re-election.

That means there's the possibility that the majority of the school board could be completely new come January 2017, when the new trustees start their terms.

"I think that's a terrible governance model to put in place," Fenberg said.

However, Trustee Geri Rinschler started the conversation by noting there are many community members seriously concerned with six-year terms.

In a comment on the Birmingham Patch story, , user Jane B. expressed her discontent with the school board's decision.

"The taxpayers who elect the school board to represent them should have the option to decide who they value every four years, not six," she wrote. "An incumbent not to be re-elected is rare so the risk of many new board members is low. For the board to decide to extend their terms is disingenuous to the democratic process."

Trustee Steve Scheidt said that having six-year terms may actually discourage qualified candidates from applying for the school board. Trustee Chris Conti agreed.

"Many people who would consider running for a four-year term would not put their name on the ballot for six years," he said. "That's too big of a time commitment."

This isn't the first time the school board has considered term limits. Besides the discussion in March, the . During that session, School Board President Susan Hill noted that a professional consultant advised the board toward six-year terms.

In the end, the board voted 5-2 to wind back its earlier decision from six- to four-year term limits, with Fenberg and Soifer voting to stick with six-year terms.

Because of the change, three sitting school board members will end up serving five-year terms to ensure elections occur during even-numbered years. Soifer's term will be extended to end in 2014 (instead of 2013). Meanwhile, Lawrence and Conti's terms will be extended so they end in 2016 (instead of 2015).

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