School board term limits proposal passes Senate panel

Voters statewide could soon vote on whether eight-year term limits should be imposed on Florida county school boards, a policy Historic City News has advocated for all local political offices.

A resolution (SJR 274) to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot moved through the Senate Education Committee this week.  Although the Bill itself doesn’t change anything, some critics of the legislation don’t like the idea of a single statewide vote that compels all counties and municipalities to establish term limits; rather preferring that each individual voting district impose its own choice of whether to have term limits.

Some School Board members in Florida have been known to hold onto their seats for 20-years.  In a broader sense, some county officials in St Johns County have been in office for more than 20-years — Dennis Hollingsworth has been the St Johns County Tax Collector for 30-years. 

Proponents of term limits say that forcing a change is good because it prevents an unfair advantage of incumbency creating an unwanted concentration of power in individuals who become less effective with each year served.  Critics rebut by saying if there are no term limits, the minority can’t get somebody out that the majority wants to continue in office.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, addressed recent criticism that he, as the legislation’s sponsor, had been in the Legislature much longer than eight years.  Baxley noted in an article that appeared in Florida Politics, that while he was first elected to the Florida House in 2000, he had not served in the same role continuously. He’d served in the House, took a break from office before serving again, and then later ran for Senate.  Should term limits win approval by voters, he said, a School Board member could serve eight years, leave the board and then run again later.

“This doesn’t mean you can’t be on the School Board anymore,” he said. “It means you have to take a break.”

The resolution now heads to the Rules Committee in the Senate. Companion legislation in the House (HJR 229) has already been approved in three committees and awaits a floor vote.

Portions of a report by Jacob Ogles contributed to this article