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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 21, 2008

V’ville School Board looks to four-year term

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

What is the best term length for a school board member"

Across the state, terms for the elected, unpaid posts range from three to five years.

The Voorheesville School Board, at its February meeting, okayed drafting a proposition to be put to public vote to reduce the term from the current five years to four.

The board vote was split, 5 to 2. If the measure passes public vote in May, Voorheesville would be among just 2 percent of school-board members statewide with four-year terms.

Neighboring Guilderland has a nine-member board; each member serves a three-year term so annual elections are held for three posts. Last year, five candidates ran for three seats.

Nearby Berne-Knox-Westerlo has a five-member board. Each used to serve a five-year term, so one board member was elected each year. In 2003, the school board successfully put up a proposition to shorten the term to three years. The main reason was board members thought it would attract more candidates. (BKW had a four-way race for two seats last May.)

Three years after adopting the shorter term, the board put a proposition up for vote in the spring of 2006 to return to a five-year term. The measure was defeated by the school-district voters.

"I feel a five-year term is better," said BKW School board President Maureen Sikule yesterday. "So much of your first year is getting to know how things work...It takes time to start to be effective."

She added, "When we had the five-year term, it made the rotation for president simple"We’re still working out how to do it," she said with the three-year term.

The reason for having a particular length is usually "tradition based," said Tim Kremer, a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.

He said that 68 percent of school board members in New York State have three-year terms, 30 percent have five-year terms, and 2 percent have four-year terms.

Some districts, he said, have staggered terms, where a board member is elected to a particular seat with a term of, say, three years, while another seat on the same board carries a term of perhaps five years.

Asked about the pros and cons of term lengths, Kremer said, "The yin and the yang of it is, on the one hand, it’s difficult to attract someone for a term of five years. On the other hand, board members all the time say, ‘It took me years to figure out what the heck I was doing.’" Board members learn, he said, by going through cycles of budgeting and policy development.

Most school board members serve an average of six years, said Kremer. "Typically, that equates to two terms of office," he said.

Board compromises on four-year term

At the Voorheesville meeting, long-time board member C. James Coffin said that a three-year term would be "totally unacceptable." The three-year term, he said, would attract candidates who "want to try it out for public exposure or they are one-issue candidates — they have an ax to grind."

Coffin, who is vice president of the Voorheesville board, went on, "You need people capable of listening, understanding, deliberating, and solving problems. It takes two or three years to understand what it’s all about."

He also said, "After one full term, you can make a giant contribution to the board."

Coffin concluded, "Anything short of four years is not good for the board, it’s not good for the community, it’s not good for the school district."

He conceded that a four-year term might help attract more candidates in an era when people have more commitments.

Last May, three candidates ran for one seat on the Voorheesville board.

Kevin Kroencke, who ultimately voted against the measure along with Gary Hubert, is on his third year with the board. "Probably just this year, I’m starting to feel sure of myself," he said. Kroencke said he didn’t want to serve with people who "can’t make that commitment."

Five years allows for the development of leadership, said Hubert.

Paige Pierce embraced the compromise four years mentioned by Coffin, saying three years is too short and four years could attract more candidates.

Gibson, the board president, who had been a proponent of three years, said, "If people think it takes three or four years to be competent, I have to wonder what kind of fools elected me to be president in my second year."

While he credited the long-term perspective of other board members, Gibson said that five years is "a real barrier."

Long-time board member Thomas McKenna said that three years is too short but he could support a four-year term.

Timothy Blow, the newest board member, who took office in July, also supported the four-year term.

The board voted to have its attorney write a proposition that could change the term to four years, with appropriate staggering and will vote on the proposition at its March meeting.

Voters would have to pass the measure on May 20, the date of the budget vote, in order for it to take effect.

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