PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City School Board is considering a public referendum to reduce term lengths for future members.
The notion of changing terms from five years to three was first raised by City School Board Vice President Tracy Rotz, who recently noted district residents’ reluctance to sit on the board due to the lengthy commitment it involves.
“If a person chose to go for two terms on the board, that’s a decade of their time,” City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short told attendees of a recent board meeting.
On the other hand, Short said, five-year terms allow members more time to learn the nuances of the district and how business is conducted.
PUBLIC OK NEEDED
The board does not have the authority to change term lengths on its own but can opt to put the matter up for public vote and let district residents decide.
“I agree with the concept that it does take a little bit to get your feet wet and understanding everything,” Rotz said at the meeting.
“But I know I’ve had numerous conversations in the community with individuals that I think would be very good School Board members, and it always seems to boil down to the five-year term.”
The district, he noted, has also lost valuable board members in the past who were reluctant to commit to another five years of service.
When considering altering term lengths, Short said, it’s important to keep in mind how doing so might affect the rotation of open seats in the future.
“You wouldn’t want to create this change in the length of office and then inadvertently find a year where all of the board is being elected, and it’s all brand new, and then another year that nobody’s being elected, so you don’t have an even rotation,” he said.
If the board were to put up a referendum on the matter and the public were to pass it, Short continued, the new term lengths would not take effect until the following year’s election and would not affect the terms of standing members.
“It’s designed so a board and community aren’t manipulating the dynamics of a board to that degree,” he said.
VARIETY OF VIEWS
Board member Ron Marino told meeting attendees he also had spoken with people who indicated the five-year terms deterred them from seeking election.
“Many people feel they can give three years, but they won’t run for a five-year term because they don’t want to feel they’re going to walk off three-fifths of the way through and let the organization down,” he said.
There are a lot of qualified people who, if willing to serve, Marino noted, would bring a greater variety of viewpoints to the board.
“When you look at a greater rotation of ideas that could propel this district forward even more so than it is, I’m in favor of that 100 percent,” he said.
Marino added he would also like to see term limits imposed on board members for the same reason — to bring new perspectives to the group and avoid stagnation.
When an individual has served on a board for an extended period, he continued, some may begin to question that person’s usefulness to the organization.
Marino said he meant no offense to fellow member Fred Wachtmeister, who has been on the City School Board for nearly three decades, but noted the board is just like a business, and, “when you rotate inventory, you don’t get stale inventory.”
Wachtmeister responded during the session by saying district residents can limit terms themselves by opting not to re-elect someone.
In addition, he said, “if you put the term limits on, the public may actually want somebody on (the board) ... but they’re not going to have a chance to vote for that person because the term limit is up.”
Perhaps it’s best, Wachtmeister continued, to have a mixture of old blood, which includes institutional memory, and new blood, which brings fresh ideas.
“I’m here the longest time, and Mr. Marino is here the shortest time, and I’m sure we both have contributed to the discussions that we’ve had,” he said.
And, while the five-year seats may deter some from running, Wachtmeister added, members have the ability to vacate their seats early, as some have in the past for a variety of reasons, including job opportunities and health issues.
“If it were to come to a vote, I couldn’t support three years or term limits,” he said.
Though Rotz said he is more concerned at this point with length of office, he added there are good arguments on both sides when it comes to term limits, and it’s something he’d be willing to discuss in the future.
However, he noted, had he been asked to vote on limits at that meeting, he would have opposed them.
“I know Fred has taught me a lot as a board member and brings a ton to the table, in my opinion,” he said. “If there’s someone on the board that’s been there a long time, and the community is tired of it, it’s a pretty simple process to eliminate (them) when the re-election comes up.”
Board members Steve Krieg and Robert Hall told meeting attendees they, too, felt there was no need for term limits but would be willing to have the public weigh in on reducing term lengths to three years.
For the next board meeting, Short said, he would prepare a breakdown of what effect shortened terms might have on the rotation of open seats in future years, as well as strategies for keeping that rotation balanced.
The Plattsburgh City School Board’s next public session is 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, in the Duken Building at 49 Broad St.
Email Ashleigh Livingston:email@example.com