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School Board Moves Toward 6-Year Terms for Members

In response to recent legislation that requires school board elections to be held in November of even-numbered years, the Birmingham Board of Education voted to extend term lengths for board members from four to six years.

New members of the Birmingham Board of Education could be serving six-year terms, after the school board informally decided to change its term limits last week in light of a recent legislation that standardizes school board elections.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed what is now Public Acts 232 and 233 on Nov. 29, 2011, 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 during odd-numbered years. However under the new legislation, school board elections will be held at the same time as presidential and gubernatorial elections.

The law has been touted by Snyder and its supporters as a way to save school districts money — according to a release from the governor's office, the move could save some school districts upwards of $8 million over a two-year election cycle.

The Birmingham Board of Education and at their March 6 meeting, the majority of school board members agreed that six-year term limits will stagger board turnover and ensure only a few spots are open during each election.

Currently, school board members serve four-year terms, and in the past elections have been staggered to avoid large turnover. One to two spots on the school board have come open every one to two years.

"I don't like the idea of six-year terms because you could potentially alienate some people from serving on the board," said board member Rob Lawrence, who was re-elected to the board in November. "But if the entire board flips, you might have to go out and recruit (people)."

Board member Geri Rinschler said she was hesitant to fully support six-year terms, echoing Lawrence's sentiment that it might dissuade quality candidates from running for office. However, the most important thing, she said, is protecting the district and making sure those on the school board know what they're doing.

"When you look at the possibility of turnover ... I would hate to leave a superintendent with a majority of brand new people," she said.

Board member Michael Fenburg said that it often takes new board members a few years to learn the ropes of the job, and a six-year term could actually be beneficial.

"There's such a learning curve when joining the (school) board," he said. "I really believe a six-year term could serve us well."

Once the change is in effect, those board members elected during odd-numbered years — Lawrence, Chris Conti and Lori Soifer — would have to serve an extra year so that the election can fall in an even-numbered year.

, Rinschler said it's a bad idea to place school board candidates on the same ballot with presidential or gubernatorial candidates. She said running during these election cycles is expensive and school board candidates are stuck at the end of the ballot.

Last week, she echoed this frustration and said she objects to being singled out by Lansing. "Municipalities aren't being asked to change their election law," she said.

The only school board member to voice opposition to the change was Steve Scheidt, who said the Birmingham Board of Education has a "history of high acheivement" and board members typically serve, on average, 11 years.

"I'm not worried about the pool of qualified volunteers," he said.

Deputy superintendent for educational services, Paul DeAngelis, said his office would begin drawing up a bylaw change. The board will vote on the change at their March 20 meeting, during which the public can comment on the issue. The public can also send an email to board members (email addresses can be found on the board's website) or contact board members individually.

Linda P March 13, 2012 at 12:28 PM
6year terms is not a move in the interest of public involvement and democracy. I am disappointed.
dadof4 March 31, 2012 at 06:53 PM
The taxpayers who elect the school board to represent them should have the option to decided whom they value every four years not six. An incumbent not be reelected 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

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