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State rep wants to shorten term lengths for county school board members

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The Calhoun County Board of Education meets. (Photo by Trent Penny)

Term lengths would get shorter for county board of education members in Alabama, if a bill makes it through this year’s legislative session. 

Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, filed a bill in advance of the session — which starts in February — that would reduce term lengths from six years to four years. The bill, HB 15, only amends term length, leaving the rest of the state law the same. 

“Six years is a very long time for any office holder to not be held accountable for their actions; this will give voters the opportunity to make replacements two years quicker,” Whitt said. 

Whitt said the bill had been inspired by no specific incident, so much as his experience as a legislator and involvement with county school systems. He noted that his wife is a principal where he lives, and that the bill is neither meant as an “attack on public education” or directed to his local school board. 

Parents often run for school board positions when their children enter school systems, he said, and sometimes their availability or drive tapers off after they graduate. Some school board members get burned out, he said, and some simply aren’t qualified for their jobs. 

Whitt views shorter teams as a simple way to improve the education system, he said, and allow feedback from parents in the system

“If there is burnout or someone not doing the right job, they need to be voted out,” he said. “If you’re happy with your school board members, there would be no issue to have them reelected.” 

Tobi Burt, chairman of the Calhoun County Board of Education, said he hadn’t heard of the bill Wednesday. He said longer terms allow board members who are new to administration a chance to develop into their roles. 

“Especially when in a big school system with an $85 million budget, it takes a little while to learn, especially with a school system like Calhoun County,” Burt said by phone. “For you to be able to wrap hands and arms around it, so to speak, you don’t just do that in a year or two.” 

Dana Vandiver, public relations officer for the Alabama Association of School Boards, read from a prepared statement that the organization “would hope it would be appropriately addressed when it’s time for school boards to do their redistricting.” 

The association had yet to respond to a request for more information Wednesday evening, to explain how the term length change might affect redistricting. 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.