The long-debated issue of whether there should be term limits for Newport-Mesa Unified School District board members will be up to the public to decide.
On a 5-2 vote Wednesday night — with trustees Martha Fluor and Judy Franco opposed — board members adopted a possible outline for term limits that will go before voters in the November 2018 election.
As proposed, board members would be able to serve three consecutive four-year terms. They would be able to return to the board in the future after a break.
Currently, Newport-Mesa doesn’t have term limits. The seven trustees are elected for four-year stints and can remain on the board for as many terms as they and voters desire.
Should term limits be adopted, they would not apply retroactively.
Though having long-tenured board members provides continuity and ensures institutional knowledge about long-running issues, board Vice President Vicki Snell said new perspectives would be beneficial.
“I do believe it’s important to have new people come on the board … we need the people that have been here for a while as well, because we need their input, but it needs to be a flow,” said Snell, who was appointed to the board in 2014 and elected in 2016.
Snell pointed out that the proposed term limits wouldn’t place a lifetime cap on how many terms someone can serve.
“I don’t want to cut people off at 12 years and not give them the opportunity, if they’re needed in their trustee area, to recommit to the board,” she said.
Some trustees, though, said they were concerned with the timing of the potential term limits.
They pointed out that Newport-Mesa’s voting system already is set to undergo a significant change starting next year, as board members will be chosen by residents in their trustee areas instead of by voters throughout the school district, as is now the case.
“I would truly think it would be a better idea to see what impact happens to the district with the realigning of your trustee areas, with voting only in those areas, because I think it will make a big difference in who’s on the board and who may not be,” said Franco, who has held a board seat for more than 30 years.
Board President Karen Yelsey and trustee Walt Davenport both joined the board in 2006, and member Charlene Metoyer took her seat in 2014. Trustee Dana Black has served since 1996 and Fluor since 1991.
In recent years, the prospect of term limits has been a contentious topic among activists in the school district. Three board candidates made it a campaign issue during last year’s election.
Last month, 13 speakers at a board meeting said they wanted the matter put on the 2018 ballot.
“I think the whole issue of term limits has come up over the years because of just frustration and seeing that several of you have been there for quite awhile,” Wendy Leece, a former member of both the school board and the Costa Mesa City Council, said Wednesday. “Maybe the answer to the whole problem is to get some new blood and new ideas and a fresh vision.”
Though Fluor said she’s not opposed to term limits, she’s concerned they could lead to a leadership and experience vacuum.
“We are the only ones that are accountable to the people and we have one employee and that’s our superintendent,” she said. “When there’s a void of experience and a void of leadership on the board because they don’t have that experience, we tend to see it become a very staff-driven organization.”
Also, it’s been difficult to get people to run for the board, she added.
Snell, however, said “you have to have some faith that people will step forward and the district will explain things to them and make them understand why we’re doing things a certain way.”